This Charcuterie Airstream Brought Me Holiday Joy—Here's How to Make One
I am absolutely one for playing with your food. But I cringe when that veers into wasteful. And so when I saw the charcuterie chalet trend pop up on Instagram this year, I was both intrigued and hesitant: I loved all the creativity but couldn’t help think about how much meat and cheese (and crackers and pretzels) were likely going to waste in the process. Don’t get me wrong: I loved the idea of making a charcuterie chalet, just maybe during a non-pandemic year instead.
I imagined how my meat chalet would serve as a stunning centerpiece on a table full of appetizers at the bustling holiday party I couldn’t wait to throw. Early in the evening, guests would ogle it as they dipped into deviled eggs and candied pecans, and as the evening went on, someone would inevitably start eating salami shingles and cutting out hunks of Brie snow. By the end of the evening, the chalet, like the rest of holiday spread, would be decimated, the sign of a successful fête.
But this year? The thought of making a tower of meat that just my husband and I would have to eat our way through sounded like it could go only one of two ways: either a lot of expensive ingredients would make their way into the compost bin, or we’d obligingly eat our way through so much salumi that we’d start to resent it. Neither seemed particularly celebratory. So I started to think about how I could make a charcuterie chalet with a smaller footprint—one that would use fewer materials and that would actually be something the two of us could eat afterward. I needed a tiny house, I realized. Or an adorable RV.
The biggest challenge would be finding something that could support the structure of an airstream: with curved walls, crackers and pretzel rods just wouldn’t work. I started rooting through my pantry looking for ideas when I came upon a perfect airstream-shaped sweet potato. It was meant to be!
I preheated my oven to 425 degrees, poked a few holes in my sweet potato, and roasted it on a foil-lined baking sheet for about 50 minutes. Then I got to work studying plenty of pics of airstreams (I modeled mine after the adorable Caravel model) and sketching out a general plan.
First, I pulled out a block of cream cheese and let it sit at room temperature. Once it had softened, I scooped about half the block into a plastic zip-top bag and snipped the corner. I’d pipe out the cream cheese as “glue” to hold everything together.
Next, I pulled out my tools: an X-Acto knife ($7 on Amazon), a cutting board, some butcher paper ($23 on Amazon), scissors and a sharp chef’s knife. I also grabbed a large serving plate to be the base of my charcuterie scene.
Once the sweet potato had cooked and cooled, I placed it on the plate and started building its siding and features. I cut prosciutto into even strips about an inch and a half wide and 4-6 inches long using the X-Acto knife, and draped them across the top and sides, sticking them to the sweet potato with cream cheese. I affixed two more strips horizontally across the bottom of the airstream, to mimic the horizontal line of the aluminium siding.
Next, I cut windows and a door out of Benton’s country ham, which is my go-to cured meat for special occasions. (You could also use prosciutto, but I happened to have some in my fridge so decided to fancy things up with it.) The ham is aged 18+ months, and so has some naturally darker areas, which provided just enough contrast against the lighter prosciutto I used for the siding. To get the shapes right, I first sketched them out on butcher paper and then cut the shapes out to use as stencils: two for the front and rear windows, one for the door, and one for the side windows. I placed the ham on a cutting board and then the butcher paper on top of the ham and used my xacto knife to trace around the butcher paper. (Since butcher paper is designed to touch meat, it holds its shape even as it absorbs oil and moisture. You could also use wax paper or parchment paper, but I’d avoid regular paper.)
For the wheels, I needed a tire size that was much smaller than the salami I had on hand, so I used an old-school compass to again trace the shape I needed on butcher paper (side note: I don’t know why I have a compass, I think this is the only time I’ve ever used it!). Soon, two tiny wheels were carefully affixed in place.
With my trailer complete, it was time to start campground-scaping. And oh my goodness, can I tell you how fun it is to build things out of tiny bricks of cheese? I used a block of Cabot Colby Jack, which turned out to be the perfect easy-to-cut texture. First, I made a small step for the airstream door, which I covered with two tiny pieces of triscuits. Then I set to work building a picnic table, because we all know that airstream camping is just as much about hanging out outside the camper as it is being inside. I cut thin, uniform blocks for the benches and table sides, then a longer block for the table top. Finally I added an outdoor rug built from adorable tiny hexagon crackers from Trader Joes.
Then it was time to build a fire! I happened to have a trio of red, orange, and yellow bell peppers and so cut tiny, concentric flame shapes out of each one. Because my fire was so tiny, the bell pepper pieces seemed a bit thick at first, so I carefully cut them in half widthwise using a sharp chef’s knife. I then cut a fire ring out of a thick piece of salami, again using my now-trusty compass and some butcher paper stencils. The fire seemed a bit lonely so I also added two chairs, using some sliced black olives as the base and fritos as the seat, and placed some whole pecans in the chairs to add some “people” to my scene.
Finally, I needed to give my airstream a forest setting. I cut thick, 1-inch squares of cream cheese and set them around my plate, then set large pretzel rods in each. I fastened trios of rosemary sprigs together with rubber bands, and balanced them atop each rod. I also cut “ferns” out of celery leaves and pressed them around the cream cheese at each tree’s base.
The centerpiece did indeed make it to a holiday party, but only because I showed it to coworkers over Zoom. Then it went carefully back in the fridge, waiting for its true fate: dinner the next day. I carved the sweet potato into thick slices, keeping the prosciutto wrapping in-tact, then roasted the slices in the oven until they were piping hot. Serving chicken thighs with a side of prosciutto-wrapped twice-baked sweet potatoes isn’t quite the same as watching friends and family gather around an appetizer table, but did provide a way to celebrate the season without the guilt of food waste, and in 2020, I’ll take any form of celebrating I can get!