The Art of the Charcuterie Board

The word “charcuterie” refers to cold cooked, cured, or smoked meats, so in the most “official” sense, a traditional charcuterie board is just a meat platter.  However, today the charcuterie is more than just a tray, it has become a statement piece, an art form, and a way to impress your guests when entertaining.  On a wooden board or decorative tray one can find an assortment of tasty meats, cheeses, dried and fresh fruits, vegetables, toasted nuts, briny olives, and complementary condiments – honeys, jams, jellies, chutneys, mustards and more! I would describe the charcuterie board as a signature party food and not that difficult to assemble.

Where to start? Like all good recipes it all comes down to the ingredients… and to make a Charcuterie board that will be the talk of all your parties, your selections are key. No skimping here!

 The Meats

There are many types of cured meats in the world. So, which ones do you chose to place on your board? I personally like to select three types of cured meats ranging from salty, sweet, and spicy.  Choose one meat from each category. 

Dry-Cured Pork: Thin-sliced, fatty and salty, dry-cured pork is a must. Serrano ham, prosciutto, or capicola. Prosciutto wrapped around fresh melon slices is one option you can make, and it is absolutely yummy!

Salami: Aged sausage made from ground meat seasoned with a variety of herbs, spices and dried.  Select soppressata, finocchiona, or Genoa (always my favorite). Salami… salty perfection! Need I say more. 

Bresaola: Like prosciutto, bresaola is also dried and cured beef top round, lending it a deeper flavor and more toothsome texture. 

The Cheese

The cheese should complement the meat. Assemble some contrasting textures and flavors: a soft, mild cheese is not going to be the best with soft, mild mortadella, so choose a firm or hard variety of cheese instead. Choose one cheese from each category.

Soft Cheeses: Brie, Camembert, triple-cream, burrata, goat cheese, fresh ricotta, and Gorgonzola dolce. These spreadable cheeses lend tons of flavor and buttery texture.

Semi-Soft Cheeses: Fontina, Muenster, Roquefort, and Havarti. These cheeses are between soft and firm, and they are easy to slice on a board. 

Firm: Cheddar, Gouda, Gruyère, and Stilton. These cheeses can hold their own in flavor and are stiff enough to top and eat without a cracker. 

Hard: Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino-Romano, and Asiago. These dry, salty, cheeses work well broken into hunks.

Stacking and Spreading

Bread, crackers, and vegetables can all play a part on your Charcuterie board. They provide the perfect backdrop for all your selections whether you are layering, stacking, or dipping. Select two from each category. 

Bread: Try a baguette, toast points, flatbread, Melba toast, or crostini. 

Crackers and Crisps: There are so many options to choose from. The plain water cracker, or even the simple saltine or wheat crackers.

Fresh Vegetables: These veggie choices are great for dipping as well as adding color to your board. Think Broccoli, bell peppers, celery, carrot, and radishes are just a few of vegetables that you can place.

The Extras: 

The meat and cheeses are the main attraction; however, the fruit, spreads, nuts, and pickles can add a lot of dimension and additional flavors to your Charcuterie board. They will keep people happily nibbling away throughout your party.

Nuts: Spiced nuts, candied nuts, Marcona almonds, roasted nuts, and nut brittle are all great, crunchy additions.

Fruit: Grapes, sliced apples and pears, dried apricots, dried cranberries, dried and fresh figs. Apples are a great cracker substitute. Don’t forget seasonal fruits; late summer peaches and melons are always welcome additions. 

Spreads: Honey, mustard, fig jam, pepper jelly, sweet or savory chutneys, and tapenades. 

Pickled/Briny: Brined or oil-cured olives, cornichons, marinated artichokes, roasted red peppers and pickled vegetables. 

Assembly Time:

Now that we have made our selections, how does one assemble a Charcuterie board? The first thing you will need is a large sturdy board or decorative plater.  I recommend wood, marble, or slate. Remember to make sure that you have plenty of surface space to spread all your delicious, gathered selections. Add cheese utensils for spreading and small forks or toothpicks for picking up your mouthwatering nibbles.  Next divide your board into 3 or 4 sections.  Place one type of meat in the middle of each section. Arrange the meats artfully, create rose-like shapes, roll or fold salamis, fan out soppressata, or place them into little clumps. Position the cheese next to the meat to encourage pairing. Play with the placement and angles of the cheeses to keep things fun and add dimension on the board.  Place jams, jellies and condiments in fun small containers or fingertip bowls and position them next to the cheeses and meats you want to pair them with. Fill any blank spaces with fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Scatter dried fruits wherever they fit. Lastly add the bread and crackers. Voila! Your show stopping Charcuterie board is now complete!