From curated charcuterie to communal grazing at a restaurant, this spring more than ever beckons the return of social dining experiences. The pandemic surely broadened our definition of “third place” – gathering spaces that are neither work nor home – to include picnicking in public parks and plucky restaurants and cafes transforming Main Streets into al fresco patios. Even with COVID restrictions lifted, this trend is here to stay. Whether you’re grazing inside or out, there’s no better way to make a moment special than congrgating around a cheese board or splitting a spread of small bites. We’ve got everything you need to know about locally made charcuterie, snack boards, picnicking, and more. Let’s dig in!
Trace back the culinary roots of most regions and you’re likely to find a variation of passed small plates somewhere in tradition. In Chinese, particularly Cantonese, cuisine, dim sum makes up a series of small-portioned snacks like steamed buns, rolls, and desserts. Pull up a seat at most Italian restaurants and you’ll find an antipasto salad – a platter of cured meats, olives, peppers, anchovies, and cheeses – in the appetizer section that begs to be shared.
Then there’s tapas, which Palo in Providence has built a name around. “The popularity of shared small plate dining can be found both in the tapas of Spain and the mezze all around the Mediterranean including Lebanon, Israel, Greece, and the Maghreb,” says Samir Zaiter, owner of Palo. “We like to say that we are ‘inspired by Andalucia’ here, which includes inspiration from the various peoples that inhabited the Iberian Peninsula over time, not just modern-day Spain. As for charcuterie, we offer a selection of Spanish and local cheeses and meats that can be ordered individually, or as part of a ‘tabla’ or board.”
Though known for its cafe fare, Little Sister on the East Side has also been serving tapas Friday and Saturday evenings. “As far as I know, we are the only restaurant in the state offering a modern take on Puerto Rican food by serving it tapas-style and bringing in elements of traditional Spanish cuisine as well as seasonal coastal New England. Puerto Rican cuisine is a mix of cultures between indigenous Taíno, Spanish colonial, and African enslaved people,” says owner Milena Pagan. “The wide range of influences makes for very interesting food!”
Avvio Ristorante, Cranston
Antipasto board of cured meats, artisan cheeses, and pickled vegetables
Little Sister, Providence
Tapas board of Chorizo and Mussels Stuffies, Hummus de Gandules, Tostones, and more
Mezze menu of Goat Cheese Tacos, charcuterie, Armenian Flatbread, crudites board (coming in summer), and more
New Asia House, Warwick
Dim sum menu of steamed buns, dumplings, chive pancakes, custard tarts, and more
Palo Tapas Bar, Providence
Family-style entrees, tapas, and a Spanish cheese and sausage board
Though traditional French charcuterie refers exclusively to prepared meats, a charcuterie board has evolved to encompass the cheeses and complementary accoutrements often served with cured cold cuts. It’s not hard to find these shareable spreads on appetizer menus across the state, often showcasing the farm-to-table bounty of local farms and creameries. Nick’s on Broadway, for example, has a focus on farm-raised and house-prepared meats – many of which are available by the block or pint to go, too.
“I have always loved charcuterie, but our program really started to take shape about 13 years ago when I began bringing in and butchering whole animals from our local farms,” says Nick’s on Broadway chef Derek Wagner. “Having the entire animal to utilize provided the inspiration, opportunity, and need to find delicious and wonderful ways to use all the different parts beyond just the most popular cuts.” Offerings rotate based on local farm availability, though the most recent plate included Baffoni Farm chicken liver pâté, a terrine made with Blackbird Farm corned beef and oxtail, toasted bread with pork tallow, and more.
Other restaurants take a more customizable approach. Bar and Board Bistro in Newport, Bacaro in Providence, and Tapped Apple Cidery and Winery in Westerly – just to name a few – provide the fixings and let guests tailor their selection to their table’s tastes. “Our guests choose from a list of cheeses and chorizo to make up their own boards,” says Deb Wiedenheft of Tapped Apple. “We also offer a selection of olives, truffles from Hauser's Chocolatiers in Westerly, and a fig jam, which is awesome on the Brie.”
Chances are good one of your favorite neighborhood eateries curates their own charcuterie spread – here’s just a handful of Rhody restaurants with artisanal and locally sourced cheese and meat boards on the menu. Not seeing your favorite? Email us at Marketing@providenceonline.com and we’ll add it online.
Audrey's Coffee House & Lounge, South Kingstown
Bar and Board Bistro, Newport
Bellini Restaurant, Providence
The Cafe, Westerly
Mare Rooftop, Providence
Matunuck Oyster Bar, Wakefield
Nick’s on Broadway, Providence
Res American Bistro, Providence
Tapped Apple Cidery and Winery, Westerly
White Horse Tavern, Newport
Whether it’s a platter of pretzels, chips, dips, and a pile of strawberries (just for the heck of it) or a sampler of warm appetizers, snack boards are edible, eccentric grab bags, the wild west of social dining – that is to say, there are no rules. And that’s what makes them great. When it comes to DIY entertaining, get creative with the smorgasbord of sweet and savory finger food you have on hand, from deviled eggs to artisan olive flights, mini cupcakes to fruit dipped in chocolate fondue. Just like any assemblage of graze-worthy apps, the secret is variety to please all types of eaters.
When it comes to dining out, no-rules snacking goes hand in hand with pub and brewery fare. For instance, Solid Gold Provisions, operating out of the Long Live Beerworks kitchen in Providence, offers freewheeling bar snacks like flavored popcorn, nuts, and their Solid Gold Snack Box, served in a box with a cellophane window and described as an “an adult version of a Lunchable.”
At Newport Vineyard and Taproot Brewing, a “Shared Bites” menu boasts chips and housemade dips, pub pretzels, wings, oysters, and an adventurous charcuterie board (think Point Judith fish rillette and house-cured meats), though their sweet treat sampler is where it’s at. “Our talented pastry team offers a monthly special dessert board featuring themed treats,” says marketing account manager Kendra Carlisle, listing everything from March Madness macarons to baked goods for Easter. “They’re great to share with the table or to celebrate a special occasion.”
Duck Press, Wakefield
Brunch board of cinnamon sugar doughnuts, mini croissants, banana bread, fresh fruit, jam, and honey
Huck’s Filling Station, East Greenwich
Lox plate of sourdough, salmon, capers, red onion, tomato, and veggie cream cheese
Newport Vineyard and Taproot Brewing
Dessert board of rotating cookies, pastries, and sweets
Solid Gold Provisions at Long Live Beerworks, Providence
Snack box of two cured meats, semi-hard cheese, snack mix, mustard, and pickled veg
Today’s picnics are all about the experience. Many picnic services not only curate a menu of gourmet delicatessen and desserts, but also treat you and your guests to all the fixings of luxury romp. Take Perfect Picnix, for instance, which includes all of the tableware (down to the blanket and pillows for seating) and even playlists and lawn games.
Or there’s Premier Picnics, which offers five “curated vignettes,” one set in each of the Ocean State’s five counties. The mother-and-daughter duo of Elizabeth and Alexandra Salisbury orchestrate all of the details, down to the colorful bouquets, to make an outing memorable, whether date night or bachelorette party. They partner with local vendors like Sin Bakery to offer food add-ons, too. “Dining outdoors was essential for social distancing but has continued to be a way for people to celebrate special occasions with an exciting open-air experience,” the Salisburys share.
An extension of Stoneacre Brasserie, Stoneacre Picnics launched last year to provide full-service, catered affairs at some of Newport’s most elegant spots. “Picnics, a classic sign of summer and a seasonal highlight, are the perfect way to (maybe play hooky?) and enjoy all of the natural beauty that Newport has to offer,” says director of marketing Nicole Canning. “Luxe linens, ambient extras, candlelight vibes – it’s all part of the ‘wow factor.’ Stoneacre Picnics isn’t just about your taste buds; it’s a treat for all of the senses. Tell us what you’re swooning over or have pinned to that ‘picnics’ inspiration board in your mind and we’ll happily bring it to life.”
Menta Graze, Newport
Perfect Picnics, Warren
Picnic Cafe, Newport (specialty picnic baskets)
Stoneacre Picnics, Newport
“A charcuterie board is all about abundance and the blending of different tastes,” says Jonathan Feiler, director of wine at Ocean House. Building the perfect board is more an act of curating or collage than creating a culinary masterpiece from scratch, so the good news is you don’t need to be a world-class chef (or even proficient in the kitchen) to tap into the art of charcuterie. That said, there are strategies for assembling the perfect board, from selecting morsels that speak to each other to artfully arranging everything. Local charcuterie services cater to all sizes of parties, but if you’re looking to try it yourself, read on for a compilation of tips from the pros.
As a rule of thumb, always go for a variety of milk sources (cow, goat, and sheep) and textures (soft, hard, or spreadable), offering no less than three cheeses on a single board. “To build a cheese and charcuterie spread to wow guests, we want to include as many elements as possible to delight the palette,” says Ocean House’s chef Ryan Swanson, from local cheddar and gruyere to Spanish Manchego and funky gorgonzola.
Not sure where to begin? Jackie Connor of Bellevue Boards shares the flavor profiles of three go-to cheeses that work for any board.
“Encased in a chewy, edible rind, brie carries notes of woodsy mushrooms and caramelized butter. Of French origin, brie will always have a home on the charcuterie board, thanks to its mild flavor and easy spread-ability.”
“Also called chèvre, goat cheese ranges from crumbly to creamy in texture with intense earthy and tangy flavors. But don’t let the creaminess fool you – goat cheese is a delicious low-fat alternative to some denser cheeses. Drizzle some honey on fresh goat cheese and you’ll be in heaven.”
“Made from cow or goat’s milk, gouda is one of the oldest cheeses in the world and one of the most popular. Rich and pungent, it runs the spectrum from creamy to compact, nutty to sweet.”
Cured meats like prosciutto and salami may be top of mind, but incorporating a pâté, rillette (preserved pork or game meat shredded and served as a spread), or terrine (a cold loaf served as slices) can bring your charcuterie board to the next level with a nod to its French origins. No matter which prepared meats you choose, go for a variety of spice levels and textures.
Though several popular cured meats are Italian or French in origin, you can find local producers purveying farm-raised sausage and beef in the same style. Charcuterie is the specialty at Martinelli’s Farm in North Scituate, where Frank Martinelli raises his livestock all naturally to create Sweet Sopressata, Bourbon and Bacon Dry Salame, finocchiona, and more.
“My animals are born and raised on the farm,” says Martinelli. “Hogs are the only animal that tastes like what they eat. I feed my hogs a special diet of dairy, short-dated yogurt, cheese, and milk. They also get spent grain from micro breweries, acorns, and fresh vegetables when available. On Sundays they are treated with Italian no-preservative bread.”
Watching his two grandmothers making cured meats growing up, he says, “I just thought it would be a great idea to offer a variety of salamis from hogs on a special diet as it’s done in Europe and especially Italy.” MartinellisFarm.com
Amelia Wilson of Grapes & Gourmet shares her top picks when it comes to classic and daring charcuterie choices.
“A French classic, this thick, dry cured sausage is balanced and mild in flavor but still very delicious.”
“One of my favorite Italian meats – there are a bunch of different types of prosciutto but all are thin, salty, and amazing. It melts in your mouth.”
“I love pâté and personally feel that it should be on every charcuterie board. It’s very earthy and aromatic, rich and herbaceous. The taste of liver really comes through.”
“Since we’re in Rhode Island, I almost always opt for hot soppressata. It’s rustic, savory, and spicy.”
Any additions – nuts, olives, fruit, spreads, and garnishes – are optional but when used correctly, uplift the stars of the board: the meat and cheese.
“Shopping at local farmers markets and keeping your eye out for fresh produce will do your charcuterie board wonders. Add in some crunch with salted almonds, along with local honey and fresh herbs, and you’re golden! For the finishing touch, include a little something sweet – it may just be my personal preference, but no board is complete without a little chocolate.”
– Jackie Connor, Bellevue Boards
“I always love to add fresh greens on any of my boards: rosemary, thyme, basil. And I'm a big fan of edible flowers. Herbs and flowers make any board stand out and look fresh.”
– Amelia Wilson, Grapes & Gourmet
“Our cheese boards are like a canvas on which to create a custom edible artwork. I was inspired to carve fruit [for a recent board] into some fun flowers. It's nice to make our boards look pretty as well as taste delicious with all the freshest and highest quality products available.”
– Amelia Jones, Charcuterie by Celeste
“I aim to keep like-colors away from one another. For example, keeping your green grapes, kiwi, and olives separated really helps elevate the board so that you have clusters of green throughout and not on top of each other. Just like making a meal for someone you love, composing a charcuterie board that has been intricately styled and designed shows your recipient your love for them.”
– Crystal Papino, The Perfect Parcel
“I majored in theater at Fordham University, and much of my curriculum was focused on design standards and principles. One principle that I draw from often when arranging my spreads is the Rule of Three. The principle states that things arranged in odd numbers – in particular threes – are more appealing to the eye. I try to have three groupings of berries, nuts, etc.”
– Kaleigh Bernier, Block Island Charcuterie
“I like to make my boards in steps. Cheese is always first, then the charcuterie meats, followed by any larger items like bowls, dips, and grapes. Then, you fill all the blank spaces with nuts, berries, dried fruits, and finally garnish to bring it all together! The key to making it visually appealing is to cut the cheese and style the meat so there are a variety of textures and shapes. I also prefer not to see any empty space on the board, until people start to dig in of course!
– Chelsea Martin, Chelcuterie by Chelsea
Most charcuterie experts agree on the standard three ounces of cheese and one ounce of meat minimum per person when served as an appetizer – but that doesn’t mean you can’t go big. “With six or more ounces, your guests will have the opportunity to experiment with the various combinations of cured meats and cheeses to find their favorite pairing, as opposed to having just a small sample of each item. Who knows, you may adore the primo sale tartufo, but only when it's paired with the golfetta and fig jam!”
– Elyse Pare, Graze on Main
“We created a custom board for a customer who wanted to highlight her homemade hot pepper jelly. We identified a few cheeses to pair with it – our favorites were Taleggio, Lamb Chopper, and Red Witch – and also included a Habanero Hibiscus Spread from Warren producer Kassumay.”
– Nina Pease, Milk & Honey
“Give your guests something they can't find at their local grocery store. Pre-packaged cheese and meats from Trader Joe’s are great for on the fly, but if you’re looking for a stand-out board, visit your local gourmet shops. Rhode Island is a foodie state and has lots of options for finding unique goods!”
– Elyse Pare, Graze on Main
“I like to pair a variety of wines from different regions and styles. I always add in something sparkling and a rosé, white, and red. I particularly like to pair the wine with the destination of the meats and cheese and then add in some unique grape varieties to take the guests on a unique journey.”
– Jonathan Feiler, director of wine at Ocean House
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