"The principles of cocktail and food pairings really aren't any different than wine pairings," says Jeff Faile, beverage director for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group's latest Washington DC opening, The Partisan. Along with chef Nate Anda (who spearheads the Red Apron Butchery), Faile has been busy lately exploring the relationship between charcuterie and spirits.
The meat-centric restaurant boasts a rotating charcuterie list of roughly 30 items, divided into flavor categories like Bright, Herbal and Floral, and Smoky. From salamis to rillettes, each charcuterie option has elements that make it more or less suitable for particular spirits, says Faile. For instance, "something with higher fat content needs a lot of tannins to cleanse the palate," says Faile. "Brown spirits pull the tannins out of barrel wood, so you have to go with something with rye or bourbon to help cut through the fat." Or if the charcuterie is of higher acidity, explains Faile, "You need to have a cocktail with citrus, because acid needs more acid."
Chef Anda has even gone so far as to craft several charcuterie that draw inspiration specifically from cocktails. His "Eva Peron" salami is made with Fernet, sweet vermouth, ginger liqueur, and lime juice, while the "Campari Rosemary" salami is seasoned with Campari, rosemary, and orange to complement the classic Negroni cocktail.
While you may not easily be able to find Negroni-flavored salamis at your local butcher shop, choosing charcuterie to pair with your spirits isn't too hard when you follow the advice of the experts at The Partisan. Here's what Anda and Faile have to say about making the perfect match.
Faile recommends pouring rye to cut through the high fat content of fattier charcuterie options. "The tannins and natural spices come through in a rye," he explains, "and a higher proof (100 or higher) is perfect for complementing something fatty and smoked." Faile recommends Rittenhouse, Whistle Pig, or Willett served with a summer sausage or spicy salami.
"I think another great example of this would be a 100% rye paired with lardo," Faile continues. "Not only does the spiciness from the rye help cut through the richness of the lardo, but so does the tannin from the wood aging."
Don't want to sip the spirit straight? Faille recommends mixing a spiritous rye Manhattan to drink with a fatty charcuterie staple like prosciutto.
Like rye, bourbon naturally complements smoky flavors, but the added dimension of sweetness can come in handy. "Bourbons pair with the same principle as spicy foods paired with Riesling," says Faile. "The sweetness of the bourbon tempers the heat from spice so the heat does not become the only note. A wheated bourbon coats the tongue to allow the spice to come through with each bite rather than building up."
Faile recommends wheated bourbons like Maker's Mark or Elmer T. Lee from Buffalo Trace to complement andouille sausage or even beef jerky.
"The peatiness of Scotch makes it a perfect match for smoked meats, " says Anda. "German style sausages, like landjäger, are great with Scotch because they're smoked with immense depth of flavor and not overly fatty."
But finding the right charcuterie match can be a bit of a moving target depending on how the spirit is finished. A sherry-barrel aged Scotch like Bowmore 15, accents peat flavors with a sweetness that Faile says can be great with saltier charcuterie. If your charcuterie has more spice, Faile recommends Auchentoshan Three Wood, a Lowland scotch that's matured in three different barrels: American bourbon, Spanish Oloroso sherry, then Pedro Ximenez sherry, which results in an even-greater dimension of sweetness.
"Being all herbal and floral," Faile explains, "gin doesn't require fat to balance its flavors." Instead, the charcuterie flavors to look for when thinking of pairings for gin, says Faile, "are botanical more than fat." Herbs like fennel and thyme are key points for pairing. "Porchetta's are often seasoned with fennel and citrus," Anda says, pointing to one delicious option. Anda also recommends duck prosciutto, which he describes as more oily than fatty and is often cured with herbs, or a finocchiona, a fennel salami. Reach for Plymouth, which Faile describes as "botanical with massive citrus," or Botanivore for its strong floral quality.
Along the same lines as gin, amaro's earthy, herbaceous, and citrus qualities give it pairing versatility. Faile recommends trying earthy Averna with a liverwurst, or herbaceous Fernet with a bresaola or speck.
For those that are new to Amaro, Anda suggests beginning with the saffron and orange infused Nonino, which he calls "a gateway drug for people that don't like Amaro." Nonino will lead to Fernet, which will lead to Averna.