Slow Table Founders on the Art of Curation
We get asked a lot how we go about curating the products featured in our cheese and charcuterie boxes. With so many products to choose from, how do we know what works best?
It starts with a global perspective, a discerning palate, and a commitment to quality.
At Slow Table, when we think about food, we don’t just think about what we need to survive. An important factor, yes, but for us, food is so much more than just sustenance. Food is an experience. It’s the sensations of aroma and flavor, a celebration of cultural history, a reflection of terroir, an adventure, a tradition, and when done right, a fond and distinct memory. Food brings people together, satisfies our souls and challenges our beliefs. Food is art.
Our life experience and love affair with this particular art form has taught us to approach curating our meals with care and intention – for ourselves, our guests and our customers. From our daily home cooking to our flagship cheese and charcuterie boxes, we handle each food choice with care. This is particularly true when it comes to artisanal foods, like specialty cheeses and meats. With no offense meant to any cheese or meat artisan out there in the world, not all products are created equal… and for us, it all starts with the quality.
There is so much that is nuanced in our process, but we will do our best to paint the picture for you.
It all starts with the cheese.
We don’t just pit Brie vs. Cheddar. The process starts with divine inspiration from the flavor profile and the story (each product we include has a story). Usually, it’s one specific cheese that becomes the center of each box’s little Universe. The Sun Cheese, if you will. Okay, so now you know we are nerdy and like astrology and Louis XIV history – but we digress.
Once we have found our inspiration cheese, we start the process of mentally combing through all the brilliant cheeses in our knowledge bank to find the few that would be beautiful supporting actors. It all unfolds from here.
Take our favorite showstopper cheese, Brillât-Savarin Affiné, for example. This cheese is truly the Queen (or King) of perhaps all Universes. There are few who have tried it who would dare to disagree. Coming up with our ultimate party food box, The Grand Crew, all started with this cheese. We knew we had to put this cheese in a box – and when found out we could source a beautiful full 500-600g wheel, we knew it had to be a box for a party. The development of this box began with a single question: What could sit on a table with this golden child cheese and compliment it, rather than compete with or be overpowered by it? We started thumbing through the flavor memory rolodex in our minds – something that has been developed over years of eating some of the world’s finest foods - hunting for those special cheeses that will be just perfect.
There is a lot to consider here. Like fine wines, cheeses have terroir – tasting notes that come from the various elements of the region they are made in. Everything from what the animals’ lifestyles and diets are like, to whether the product is produced by the sea or in a drier mountainous climate. Terroir is an important factor in how we select cheeses. Other important factors are the style of cheese (fresh, blue, bloomy or washed rind, hard aged, etc.) as well as what type of milk it is made from. We want each cheese to be distinct, but complimentary to their board mates. How many should be cow’s milk, and how many should be goat or sheep’s milk? Should we have blends? How many regions do we want on this board or table? As true believers in variety being the spice of life, we make sure to mix it up. Once we have narrowed down our wants list of cheeses, we set out to source them, trying all the different makers we can get our hands on, and making sure we compare our stand-by favorites with newer producers - they often surprise and delight us! This piece is the most crucial, and we go from one to another until we have the right ones. Once we have found our cheeses, it is on to the meats.
Charcuterie rounds out the experience.
Second only to cheese, charcuterie choices are taken through the same kind of process. While there aren’t quite as many varieties as cheeses, there is still a LOT to choose from out there, and again, not all are created equal, but it wouldn’t be fair to name names. From farming and production practices to the intensity of flavor infusions, the charcuterie world is highly refined and competitive.
We consider our cheeses and their terroir, then we cull all the meats we think will work with them. We taste them together, refining the choices with careful consideration of texture, flavor, spices and aromas, making sure to create balance and harmony with our selections. Prosciutto is often a first pick, as it is delicate enough for the softest and most nuanced of cheese flavors but can still stand alongside the most robust ones. However, there is not just one prosciutto choice… you have prosciutto di Parma and prosciutto di San Daniele, similar but with distinct flavor differences. Then there is the more aromatic prosciutto di Toscano, which is a whole different ball game. And these are just the Italian cured hams! In this category of cured meats, you also have French, Spanish, Portuguese, and now many amazing American producers in the running for the top choices. Each unique, and lending something special to the palate experience.
From here, we move on to salami, selecting a couple of options (or several), again to create balance of flavor and texture. Even the drier salamis tend to be fattier and more flavorful than the delicate cured hams, like Italian prosciutto or French jambon sec. They are traditionally spiced with peppercorns, red pepper flakes or cayenne, and herbaceous seeds, such as fennel. We are discovering more and more cured sausages flavored with exotic and aromatic specialty ingredients, like the black truffle or mole seasonings found in two of our favorite Elevation Meats salamis. We're also fascinated by innovative flavors like the classic cocktail inspired bourbon and cherry “Manhattan” salami by Brooklyn Cured, featured in our Premier Crew box. Once we choose the best meats for our board, that sing in harmony with our cheeses, it is onto the accoutrements.
The finishing touches – Accoutrement pairing.
Pickles, olives, nuts, jams, mustards… sweet and savory, crunchy and silky, bright and complex … these little side pairings are the supporting flavors and textures of a board. Like the backup singers and dancers in a show, a board would not be complete or as fascinating without them. We’re constantly seeking interesting items in this category. Particularly in the pickle category – we have so many special ones just waiting for the right board to be paired with. While cornichons are a classic go-to for any board (there is just something special about those petit piquant gherkins), we are cracking open the wonderful world of jarred and pickled foods. They are constantly inspiring us to get creative and explore new ways of thinking about flavor and texture. It all comes down to which choices amplify the unique flavors in the board. We stay focused on creating a well-rounded experience for our guests and you, dear fellow Foodie, to not just enjoy and feel confident in, but to create a spark of exploration and curiosity.
Our goal is for you to love and trust the Slow Table experience so much, that you would happily order a box from us without even knowing what’s in it.