And here we finally are, at the charcuterie portion of what has grown to become our Kimpton Staycation Suite. I’d originally envisioned our entire experience as being a single post, but then it sprawled, The Hobbit-like, into three (but with waaaay less padding).
For the uninitiated, our 2015 Charcuterie Face-Off is judged on a five-point scale, with up to one point awarded for each of these five criteria:
1) Presentation — how aesthetically pleasing is the layout of the board’s elements?
2) Taste Bud Balance — do the offerings light up all five basic tastes — sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami — in a harmonious way?
3) Dipping Options — what jellies, purees, or sauces are offered alongside the cheeses and meats?
4) Variety — do we get cheeses and meats from different locales, of different textures, with varied flavor profiles, and from multiple animals?
5) Personality — a freestyler; what makes a board from this place special and unlike one from any other location?
To judge The Commoner’s offerings, we got an order of their cheddar board and their meat board.
The cheddar board contained (as one might expect from the name) a variety of cheddars. We had English, Irish, Pennsylvania stone, Pennsylvania 18-month-aged, Vermont cloth-bound, and Vermont 2-year cave-aged cheddars, along with apple butter, dried apples, a sweet fruit chutney, almonds tossed in olive oil and salt, and cranberry walnut bread.
The meat board featured proscuitto, lonzetta cotta, speck, mortadella, rillettes, and the afore-raved-about head cheese, as well as porter mustard, pickled vegetables (including greens!), and grilled bread.
The two boards worked extremely well in concert. The English cheddar was a great utility player; its dry texture and mild flavor made it very versatile. The Irish cheddar was your quintessential cheddar, sharp and dry and great with mustard (or the especially tender proscuitto we had). The PA stone cheddar was sharper and tangier than the Irish; it went well with the herbaceous, rosemary flavors of the lonzetta cotta. The PA 18-month was intensely sharp, more like a bleu cheese in both flavor and creamy texture. It needed to be tamed with a little sweet chutney, raisin toast, or just a sip of a red Bordeaux. The Vermont cloth-bound was super dry but not overly sharp, making it ideal for pairing with apple butter and/or speck. The Vermont cave-aged was surprisingly sweet, making it a good candidate for pairing with vinegary pickled flavors.
So how did the scoring shake out?
1) Presentation: 0.9 out of 1. Having two boards did take up a lot of table real estate, but it was a smart choice with the sheer variety of options. Trying to force all of it onto one board would have been a nightmare. (Albeit a nightmare of deliciousness.)
2) Taste Bud Balance: 1.0 out of 1. They really nailed it here, lighting up all of the tongue with well balanced tastes, sometimes with great standalones, and other times with bold flavors that begged to be combined with each other.
3) Dipping Options: 0.9 out of 1. What we had was really good, but I would have liked one more mustard-like dipping option; if we’d just gotten cheese we would have missed out on that addition.
4) Variety: 0.9 out of 1. I came close to giving the full point here, but even with the variety of sources and flavor profiles, we were still dealing with all cheddars, which means all cow’s milk. I was very pleasantly surprised with how much they were able to do with cheddar, though; it’s not a cheese that screams “variety” just imagining it.
5) Personality: Definitely a full point. We’ve never seen head cheese on a charcuterie board before, and the wooden serving boards reminded us (charmingly so) of those old wooden coasters on which you’d have your TV dinner in the 80s. As befits any hotel or restaurant tied to the Kimpton brand, this place has an identity, and we like it a lot.
With a final score of 4.7 out of 5, we deem The Commoner a charcuterie can’t-miss (not to mention our current front-runner)! Definitely go downtown and check it out — or if you’re staying at the Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh, just go downstairs!