Everyone loves a charcuterie board — and what’s not to love? Meat, cheese, crackers, spreads, both savory and sweet. It all comes together for a delicious snack or meal that’s always a hit for parties, date nights or any other occasion (or even no occasion at all). But putting together a charcuterie board is easier said than done.
While it may look like just tossing together some simple ingredients and arranging them prettily on a nice plate, putting together a charcuterie or cheese board requires so much more. You have to pick the correct ingredients, pair the right flavors and make sure that everything looks visually appealing.
So, ready to get started? Here’s a step-by-step guide for making your own charcuterie board at home, plus 9 tips for putting together the perfect board.
Step-by-Step Guide for Making a Charcuterie Board
While the steps for making a charcuterie board seem easy, you’ll want to go through each step carefully for the best end result.
1. Choose your serving vessel.
First things first, you need to choose your serving vessel. Sometimes, a simple cheese or appetizer tray may work. Other times, you can use a cutting board or a piece of slate. Sometimes, you can simply tape down a piece of butcher paper to your dining room table (which is not only fun, but it also allows you to write charcuterie and ingredients guides for your guests directly on the paper).
Choose your serving vessel according to the types of ingredients you’ll be serving, as well as how much food you want to serve both in terms of how many people you have to feed and how much money you want to spend on your board. Remember, the bigger the board, the higher the cost.
You’ll also need to choose a few serving dishes to go on or inside your serving vessel, such as small bowls for nuts or dips and spreads. Try to pick dishes that work well with your larger serving vessel, both in shape and style.
2. Pick your cheese.
Whatever theme or flavor profile you’re going for, a charcuterie board requires two things: cheese and meat.
When picking your cheeses, you want to include three to five options, with options that represent an array of cheese categories (i.e., soft cheese, hard cheese, blue cheese, aged cheese, etc.). Make things interesting by providing a range of textures and flavor profiles.
3. Pick your meat.
Similarly, when picking your meat for your charcuterie board, try to pick a few different types with differing flavor profiles and textures. Consider harder meats, thin cured meats and even spreadable meats (like a pate).
4. Pick your accompaniments.
While meat and cheese are musts for any charcuterie board, you can be a little more creative with your accompaniments. Popular options, of course, include crackers, nuts, fresh fruit (or dried fruit) and dips and spreads. You want to pick accompaniments that go well with whatever meats and cheeses you picked. For example, if you picked a spreadable cheese or spreadable meat, you want to provide something on which your guests can spread that item.
5. Arrange it all.
After you’ve selected all of the items that you’d like to feature on your charcuterie board, it’s time to arrange it all. Start with your serving vessel and try adding some of your smaller accompaniments or anything else that you’d need to serve within a smaller dish. Whether it’s a small dish of olives, nuts or jam, place these items in their bowls around the board.
Then, add your larger cheeses and meats. Thin meats can be rolled. Slice items ahead of time if you can to make serving easier.
As you arrange your items, try not to place items of similar texture or color together. You want to create a lot of visual interest, so try placing your messily stacked prosciutto next to a smooth wedge of brie, or your firm, dry slices of white cheddar next to your shiny dish of marinated olives.
Do try to keep spreadable items near their crackers, though, for easier eating.
As you arrange, don’t worry about items touching.
6. Add a few finishing touches.
Veggies and herbs make for great finishing garnishes. Add a few sprigs of whatever’s fresh and on hand.
7. Keep everything (and everyone!) safe.
When you’re ready to serve your charcuterie board, allow it to sit at room temperature for about half an hour. However, you don’t want your charcuterie board to sit out for hours, especially if you’re serving anything that’s perishable. If you’re worried about this, you can always make a smaller charcuterie board and then refill it as needed, with pre-cut, pre-arranged items from the fridge.
Tips for the Perfect Charcuterie Board
Want to take your charcuterie board to the next level? Here are a few ways to do so.
Add a pop of bright color to your board.
As you’re choosing ingredients for your charcuterie board, in addition to picking complementary flavors and textures, you also want to keep visual appeal in mind. Avoid a bland-looking charcuterie board by adding in ingredients that provide a pop of color, such as red raspberries or green olives or pickles.
Have at Least One Item for Every Flavor
You want to represent the four “basic” flavors on your board: savory, salty, sweet and spicy. This ensures you have enough variety.
The majority of your board will fall into the savory category, what with all that meat and cheese, but try to add in a sprinkling of salty, sweet and spicy flavors, too. Sweet fruits and jams pair well with savory items, as do spicy options, such as jalapeño-stuffed olives or a particularly spicy cheese. For a little extra salt, try incorporating some salted roasted nuts or a salty cured sausage.
Make Sure Your Quantities are Correct
In general, a charcuterie board will feed guests at a rate of two ounces of charcuterie per person if your charcuterie board is being served as an appetizer; if your board is the main meal, double your quantities. Make sure that you have enough charcuterie to go around, so no one goes home hungry or disappointed.
Don’t Forget Your Serving Utensils
Your guests will need some way to get all of that delicious charcuterie onto their plates. Make sure that you have enough serving utensils (and the right utensils) to make it happen. Miniature sets of tongs are a good way to go for meats and cheeses, but unless you’re serving everything pre-cut, you’ll also need some cheese knives on your board. Look for miniature serving spoons and forks for items such as marmalades or olives.
Don’t be Afraid to Go Over the Top
No one likes a sparsely-filled charcuterie board. Part of the allure of a charcuterie board is that vibe of overabundance and indulgence. So, don’t be afraid to pile up your smoked meats or to crowd in lots of berries or grapes. You want your board to look crowded versus underwhelming.
However, despite this, you also want to make the board easy to access. So, think about your guests as you place your items. You want things to look abundant and lush, but you also want your guests to be able to easily cut or grab that cheese without knocking over a pyramid of grapes.
Consider a Theme
Themes are always fun. If you’re having a bit of difficulty deciding what kind of charcuterie board you’d like to put together or what you’d like to put on it, consider basing all of your ingredients around a single theme. You could base your theme around a color scheme (red and green for Christmas, or your favorite sports teams’ colors, for example); a holiday (again, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, etc.); or even a meal, such as a brunch-themed charcuterie board, with all items that might be good for breakfast.
Inform Your Guests
As mentioned, a butcher paper-based charcuterie serving vessel can help you let your guests know what each ingredient is, but if you don’t go that route, try to educate your guest in another way.
Maybe you purchase some small signage that you display next to your board, letting them know what exactly the various cheeses and meats are. Maybe, if you’re only hosting two or three guests, you simply let them know what everything is before you all dig in. Whatever the case, be ready to explain to your guests what each cheese, meat and accompaniment is.
Pair Your Charcuterie Board with the Right Beverages
Complete your charcuterie experience by pairing your board with the appropriate beverages. In general, any drink that goes well with upscale meats and cheeses is a good choice. Think white and red wines (such as a pinot blanc, riesling, syrah or champagne); lighter beers, such as a pilsner or Vienna lager; or, if you want to go with a spirit, a whiskey-based cocktail. If you (or your guests) are vinos, try choosing some wines that are found in the same region in which your cheeses are made for an even more refined experience.
Look in Your Pantry Before you Head to the Grocery Store
While charcuterie boards are simple to put together and a great party-pleasing appetizer, they can be pricey. All of that specialty meat and cheese really starts to add up! Before you go to the grocery store and just start throwing things into your cart, take a look at what you already have in your pantry and fridge for items that you could use on your board.
You likely already have some jams, mustard and other spreads in your fridge. You probably have some produce and crackers you could use, too.
Then, when you do go to the store, save yourself time, effort and money by going equipped with a grocery list, so you walk away only having bought what you actually need for your board, in the right quantities.
78 Items to Consider Adding to Your Charcuterie Board
Not quite sure what to add to your charcuterie board? Consider one of these options. As you can see, there are near-endless ways to create a charcuterie board with so many ingredients that you could potentially include.
- Goat cheese
- White Cheddar
- Hot pepper cheese
- Pecorino Romano
- Cream cheese
- Italian hard salami
- Summer sausage
Crackers and Starches
- Sliced baguette
- Rice crackers (or another gluten-free option)
- Almond crackers
- Artisan crackers
- Pita chips
Fruits and Veggies
- Sliced kiwi
- Sliced persimmons
- Sliced figs
- Sliced pomegranate
- Sliced cucumbers
- Snap peas
- Banana chips
- Dried apricots
- Artichoke hearts
- Dried pineapple
- Pickled okra
- Pickled red onions
- Pickled carrots
- Pickled mushrooms
Dips, Condiments and Spreads
- Jams or jellies
- Balsamic glaze
- Bean dip
Other Fun Accompaniments
- Mint sprigs
- Rosemary sprigs
- Thyme sprigs
- Chocolate-covered nuts
- Chocolate-covered pretzels
- Dark chocolate
If All Else Fails…
And, if all else fails, and you find yourself stumped as to how to put together the best charcuterie board, simply go to Pinterest and find a photo of a delicious-looking charcuterie board, and follow along as best you can. It’s a simple way to achieve great results, no recipe required.
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