Great food, great company — what more could you need for a pleasant evening? Whether you’re hosting a party at home for friends and family, or you’re planning a special occasion event for an engagement or a milestone birthday, food is sure to be the central theme of your event. Sure, you can go fancy with passed hors d’oeuvres and a sit-down dinner, but why go to all that trouble when you can create an impressive charcuterie board that will not only feed a lot of people, but also impress them at the same time?
Charcuterie boards are meat and cheese platters that typically include a variety of items that can be paired in mouth-watering combinations. They usually include various accoutrements that complement the meats and cheeses for a fun do-it-yourself appetizer experience for your guests. I love charcuterie boards because they can please just about any palate, and your guests can whip up all sorts of combinations to keep their experience unique and entertaining. Plus, they can be served any time of year, using seasonal provisions.
While putting together a charcuterie board may seem overwhelming at first glance, it’s actually quite easy and a lot of fun to assemble. Here are some basic tips you will need to pull together the ultimate board.
The Board & Tools:
For an authentic and rustic look use a large wooden board (make sure it is food safe) or a large slab of marble. Mason jars or rustic glasses are perfect for breadsticks or condiments and you will want a variety of small and large bowls for items such as olives and spreads. Make sure that every cheese and spread has its own knife or spoon.
Select a variety of meat and cheese, meaning an assortment of mild, medium and bold flavors. Some people prefer softer, mild meats and cheeses, where other folks love big, bold flavors. Be sure you have options for both mild and bold flavors, as well as middle-of-the-road options.
a soft cheese such as herbed goat cheese or French Brie, a firmer cheese like Dutch Gouda and a harder cheese such as Piave, aged cheddar or a nice piece of veined cheese. As tempting as it may be to dice the cheese, leave it whole for the guests to cut themselves. A simple rule of thumb is 3, 5 or 7 cheeses that are hard, soft and blue (and/or mild, medium and sharp.) For a large party, my recommendation would be 3 hard, 2 soft and 2 blues. (See cheese type suggestions below.)
The possibilities are endless here, but variety is key. Thin slices of prosciutto, dry cured salami, chorizo sausage. Try to pick 3-5 different options for guests to choose from. (See meat type suggestions below.) It would be helpful to add little signs outlining what the meat and cheese selections are so your guests know what they’re eating.
Grissini (Italian breadsticks), fresh baguette and a variety of flatbreads will add so much to your charcuterie board: use your imagination. I like to provide gluten-free crackers as well as regular crackers. I choose crackers that don’t have a huge amount of flavor, added herbs or salt so that the crackers don’t detract from the flavor of what’s being added to them.
Depending on how big of a role your charcuterie board will play in your meal, it’s nice to offer guests some fresh or dried fruit to compliment the meat and cheese. While the main attraction of a charcuterie board should be the meat and cheese, it is always smart to include fresh in-season fruit to add sweetness to the salty and to change up the experience. If you want to get extra fancy, you can roast or grill fresh fruit. A big bowl of plums, fresh figs or dried apricots scattered among the meat and cheese, and grapes, sliced apples, pears or nectarines are all great additions to the charcuterie board and are so pretty.
Ok, here’s where it gets interesting. Include 1 or 2 jams or preserves for some added flavor and sweetness to balance out the dry and salty meat and cheese. Fig spread goes amazingly well with many cheeses and meats, so I always like to include it. Walnuts, olives, antipasto, fresh honey, pepper or wine jelly, tapenade and marinated vegetables will make the board stand out from the rest. Provide something briny to pair with the meat and cheese. Pickled vegetables, such as gherkins or pickles, olives, pickled jalapenos or pepperoncinis are great on charcuterie boards.
Whenever possible, include alcohol with your charcuterie experience. Wine and beer pair excellently with meat and cheese and can enhance the flavor experience. You want to pair bold-flavored meat and cheese with bold-flavored alcohol. For instance, goat cheese and prosciutto pairs well with white wine, while salami, cheddar and blue cheese go great with red wine.
Perfectly imperfect is what you are aiming for here. There are no rules, but it’s best to make the board about 30 minutes before serving to allow the cheese to come to room temperature and don’t leave the board out for longer than 2 hours at room temperature for food safety reasons.
Don’t know where to start when it comes to selecting the meats, cheeses and accoutrements for your board? Not to worry. We have you covered. Representing Italian, Spanish and French regions, here are some of our favorite charcuterie board selections.
- Soppressata: large-diameter dry sausage with lots of definition between meat and fat
- Speck: dry-cured ham from the Alto Adige region that’s cold-smoked with juniper
- Capicola: cured sausage using whole muscle from the shoulder and neck; can be spicy or sweet
- Bresaola: air-dried, salted beef aged several months
- Pâté de Campagne: country-style terrine with pork, liver, fresh herbs and peppercorn
- Duck pâté: smooth spread of duck gizzards, mushrooms and peppercorn spiked with brandy
- Rillettes: confit-based meat spreads stored in its own fat, served at room temperature
- Foie gras: spreadable cured duck liver usually encased in a layer of its fat
- Jamón Ibérico:cured Spanish ham from acorn- and olive-fed black Iberian pigs
- Jamón serrano: classic dry-cured Spanish ham
- Chorizo blanco: lean white wine and garlic salami
- Burrata: mild, luscious, semi-soft cheese that makes an excellent base for accompaniments
- Ricotta: curd whey-based cheese, served with a drizzle of olive oil, pepper and pistachios
- Gorgonzola Lombardy and Piedmont cow’s milk cheese, either dolce (sweet) or naturale (aged)
- Parmigiano-Reggiano: drizzled with rich and unctuous balsamic vinegar
- Mozzarella di bufala: made in Campania with water buffalo milk
- Fromager d’Affinois: sweet, silky double-cream cow’s milk cheese
- Comte Sainte Antoine: hard cow’s milk cheese from Jura with a round mouthfeel
- Fourme d’Ambert blue cheese from Auvergne that’s tart and creamy, with less spice and tang than other European blues
- Manchego:firm, buttery sheep’s milk cheese from La Mancha
- Mahón: buttery, sharp, slightly salty and lightly aromatic Minorcan cow’s milk cheese
- Monte Enebro:ash-rind goat cheese from Castilla
- Tapenade: finely chopped olives, capers, anchovies and olive oil
- Romesco: puréed nut and roasted red pepper spread with Spanish roots
- Whole grain and Dijon mustards: served as cheese and meat accouterments
- High-quality honey drizzle over soft cheeses
- Cornichons: tiny, tangy pickles that add texture and bite
- Fig Spread – sweet and savory combination that works well with cheese
- Padrón peppers: some hot, some not, blistered whole on the grill and tossed with olive oil and sea salt
- Pan con tomate:grilled bread seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper, rubbed with raw garlic and heirloom tomato
- Spanish olives: marinated in thyme, orange, olive oil and bay leaf
- Marinated boquerones:Spanish white anchovies with toasted pine nuts and gordal olives
- Marcona almonds: served warm with rosemary and Espelette pepper