"I love eating charcuterie boards," laughs chef Stephen Stryjewski, co-owner of New Orleans's Cochon Butcher. The meat shop/wine bar opened five years ago and is the sister establishment to Stryjewski's and Donald Link's restaurant Cochon. "I usually go for the salami first, and then I'm kind of a pickle freak. I go for all the pickles." The meat inside Cochon Butcher's cases are all butchered in-house by Leighann Smith, the 2014 Eater Young Gun who breaks down whole pigs and transforms them into everything from blood sausage to guanciale to coppa de testa. "A lot of it is Leighann's whim, what she has time to put together or interest in putting together," Stryjewski says. "So, it changes all the time."
When Stryjewski himself is composing a charcuterie board, he aims for sweet and sour notes to balance all that salami (which, he notes, the butcher shop had sold out of earlier that week). "I like to cover a lot of flavor and texture aspects," he says. "A salami plate would be a little bit over-the-top: You'd get tired of — and I don't mean physically tired of — but your taste buds get dead when everything's fermented and salty. You need to have different things to even it out." Among the different things on this board: Louisiana liver cheese, slider-ready pastrami duck breast, and what Stryjewski lovingly calls "meat paste" (a.k.a. a classic pork rillette).
1. Mustard: Cochon makes its own German-style mustard in-house, combining mustard seeds with vinegar and beer from the nearby Abita Brewing Company. (It's popular enough that Cochon sells it in its online retail store.)
2. Soda crackers: The board's accompanied by a "simple" soda cracker that the Cochon team rolls out and bakes in large sheets. "I'm not a big fan of really highly flavored breads or toasts with the charcuterie plate, just because I want the flavor of the meat to be the center attraction," Stryjewski says. "I'm not opposed to toast or a baguette — but the crackers are easy for us to maintain."
3. Liver cheese and pepper jelly: Louisiana's terminology for liver mousse christens the classic preparation "liver cheese" because it's usually formed in a loaf, similar to head cheese. At Cochon, Stryjewski bakes the pureed chicken liver, egg yolk, bacon, and shallot in a "loaf," but serves it contained inside a ramekin: "I prefer when it's soft." It's topped with pepper jelly, whose sweet notes balance out the iron and fat in the mousse.
4. Coppa: Alternately described as "cured pork shoulder, depending on if we're feeling Italian or feeling Southern," the cured pork shoulder is "basically a straight salt cure," with a little black pepper added, Stryjewski says. The meat hangs until it loses 30 percent of its weight, a cure that usually lasts 30 days but can take longer, depending on summertime humidity. "The humidity and the temperature and everything outside is fluctuating so much right now," Stryjewski says. "In the salami room, they record the humidity and the temperature and there was an anomaly — it rained. But we've gotten significantly better at figuring it out, too, and being able to anticipate what's going to happen based on histories."
5. Pork rillette: Stryjewski jokingly calls his classic take on the rillette "meat paste" — "there's not really a better way to describe it" — and Cochon's version whips pork belly (confit'ed in its own fat) with mustard, thyme, and shallots. "Basically you can do it with a mortar and pestle or in a mixer with a paddle, mix it until it becomes this beautifully textured, smooth, meat… paste."
6. Duck pastrami: Thanks to a popular duck pastrami slider on the Cochon menu, the pastrami-cured duck breast is "probably the most consistent thing" available on the charcuterie board, Stryjewski says. The team applies a brown sugar and salt brine to the duck, letting it brine for a week, before drying and smoking it at 140 degrees. After the smoke, the breasts hang for 10 days to let them dry.
7. Country terrine: Stryjewski calls this classic country-style prep (named for its rough meat chop) a "very straightforward" item: Chicken liver is rolled up ballantine-style with bacon as its external layer, and "pistachios are the only internal garnish we're putting in there right now."
8. Pickles: Stryjewski hints that pickles may be the next creative frontier. "I love homemade meats, it's great that you get such well-made meats and they're so different — everybody has their style, versus what it used to be, five years ago," he says. "But now, I get more excited by the pickles and [other] things that are getting more creative."