We loved this article from Food & Wine to compile the perfect charcuterie board!
Far more than a bunch of meat on a plate, charcuterie is a culinary choose-your-own-adventure story. Imagine the savory goodness that is a charcuterie board: an array of cured meats, tangy pickles, sweet jams, cheese, fresh fruit, and your own personal culinary wild cards, paired with beer or wine to complement the flavors and textures.
From the French chair (“flesh”) and cuit (“cooked”), and pronounced “shar-koo-tuh-ree,” charcuterie describes a wide range of cured meats, from hard, thin-sliced cuts to soft spreads. In France, the word also describes the shop that sells them. Charcuterie can serve as a starter course for a formal occasion, or it can spotlight as the light-meal centerpiece at a casual gathering.
The wonderful thing about a charcuterie board is its versatility. You can mix and match flavors and textures. You can focus on a particular style or region. You can leave some items off the menu altogether. For instance, you could nix bread or crackers from a gluten-free board, or substitute fig salami for Italian salami and hummus for pâté on a vegetarian board. Or double-down on variations of a group favorite (a culinary tour of the pâtés of various regions of France, anyone?).
To build a first-class charcuterie board, first answer the following questions:
Do you want to focus on a particular country or region or do you want to mix and match items from different countries?
What do you have access to at your local supermarket? Do you need to go to a specialty grocer? If you can’t find something locally, do you want to order it?
What dietary conditions or preferences do you need to accommodate?
A charcuterie board is not just what you eat, it’s also what people see and how the components are arranged. Once you select your elements, examine how you want to arrange your board. Here are some ideas:
Place everything on flat wooden surfaces, such as a butcher block or large cutting board. Consider additional surfaces to separate meats if your guest list includes vegetarians or vegans.
Color-code multiple platters. Accents including jam, fruit, and pickles add pops of color. Arrange them on white plates. (For instance, you can serve all jams in small bowls on one plate, all fruit on another, etc.) Showcase and complement meats, cheeses, and breads with colored plates.
Add small tags with descriptions of what each item is and where it comes from, as well as any important dietary factors.
Now you’re ready to assemble the components of your first-class charcuterie board.
Let’s start with how much meat you’ll need – it’s likely less than you think. Charcuterie is rich stuff, so a little goes a long way. If the charcuterie is an appetizer or starter course, estimate around ounces per person. If the charcuterie is the main food feature for your gathering, estimate roughly 5 ounces per person.
It’s a good idea to provide variety in the types of meats. Your two basic categories are crudo (raw cured meat) and cotto (cooked meat). Cured meats such as prosciutto are saltier and more intense, so balance them with the fattiness and sweetness of cooked meats like ham.
What you serve on your board varies depending on what you can get and want to serve. Here are some popular and traditional suggestions:
Served either flat or in loose rolls and thinly sliced (not the thicker cuts typically used in sandwiches), whole-muscle cuts of cured meat may include:
Prosciutto, jamón Serrano, and jamón Ibérico
Italian cured pork legs that are salted and air-dried; Spanish Serrano uses a different curing process, but has a comparable taste and texture.
Lomo de cerdo (or “lomo” for short)
Spanish cured pork tenderloin; the Italian version is called lonzo.
Italian beef tenderloin that is salted and air-dried; the Spanish version is called cesina.
A bacon made from pork jowl; often considered similar to pancetta but with richer, porkier flavor.
Filetto bacciato (or “kissed fillet”)
A cured loin, wrapped in salami; when sliced it is said to look like kiss-ready puckered lips.
Essentially grown-up bologna, but richer, silkier, and more complex; in addition to distinctive polka dot fat marbling, some mortadella are cooked with black pepper or pistachios.
A German cured, smoked pork shoulder that’s said to be similar to prosciutto, but with more notes of juniper and smoke.
Something You Slice
While wafer-thin slices are salty and sumptuous, your charcuterie board also needs the heft of something guests can slice themselves.
Hard salamis (such as Salame di Felino, often praised as “The King of Salami”) have sweet notes which are often counterpointed with peppercorns and white wine.
Technically a type of Italian salami, but usually more coarsely ground, it is available in round or flattened pressed varieties (from which it is said the word sopressata comes from). Spicy or sweet styles are available. The Saucisson Sec is a French equivalent, but usually milder in character and sometimes pepped up with peppercorns or smoked paprika.
Smoked sausage or ham
Smoked meats, such as kielbasa, bring additional richness to the palate, along with refreshing bitterness. Usually just one smoked meat is enough.
A salami made with fennel for refreshing sweetness.
Capicola (or capocollo)
Dried, salt-cured whole pork shoulder or pork neck that is pressed into forms for a tight texture and notable look.
We don’t often think of meat as something you can spread – but maybe we should. The third component of a charcuterie board can be a spreadable meat, most typically French-style pâté, rillette, or terrine. Spreads can be made with virtually any animal, from duck to chicken, salmon, or boar.
Comes in two broad categories – smooth or chunky – and is most commonly made from chicken liver or duck liver.
Similar to pâté, except it is made from chunkier pieces and may incorporate vegetables and seasonings. There are vegetarian versions available too. “Terrine” also refers to the to the dish it is baked and formed in.
Rillettes (pronounced ree-yet)
Meat (usually rabbit, pork, or duck) slowly cooked in fat until tender. The meat is then shredded and combined with fat and seasonings until it is a savory spread known in the Tours region of France as brown jam.
Now that you know the main components of your charcuterie board, you can pick your accents. Just like getting dressed, the accessories often make the outfit.
Based on what you serve, use accents to help you and your guests vary texture, color, and flavor. Accents also refresh a palate taking on lots of salt, fat, and rich meaty flavors. When purchasing your main components, ask for pairing ideas too. Here are a few ideas to get started:
Cucumber pickles or other vegetable pickles, such as pickled pepperoncinis, pickled carrots, or giardiniera (a traditional Italian pickle mix of cauliflower, carrot, celery, bell pepper, and gherkin, often made with hot chiles too)
Seasonal fresh fruit such as melons, apples, grapes, or berries
Bread (consider a mix of plain artisan bread and lightly toasted slices rubbed with oil and a cut clove of garlic; otherwise, opt for plain bread and crackers)
Cheese (either pick one cheese or do a combination of cheeses that offer soft or hard textures, and mild, sharp, or strong flavors)
Jam, preserves, and/or chutney
Hummus or other bean dips
For spreads, add some sprinkles of coarse salt and a few grinds of black pepper
Make sure your guests have beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages to accompany – and complement – their charcuterie plates.
Focus on three styles: saison, wild ale, and porter. Each can appeal to a range of palates, and all three can cut through the fat of the meats and play off other characteristics of the food.
Hearty reds such as Pinot Noir work well with charcuterie pairings. The acidity of Italian sparkling wines such as Proseccos and Lambruscos reset the palate, as can off-dry Rieslings.
Fizz is a common component of our beverage selections, and your non-alcoholic choices are no exception. That doesn’t mean reaching for sodas; that sweetness can be overwhelming. Sparkling water and mineral water, especially with a slice of lime or lemon, is a refreshing choice.
Now that you know the components of a first-class charcuterie board, go build your own culinary adventure! The results will be savory, complex, gratifying – and lots of tasty fun.