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The Ins & Outs of Charcuterie Boards

The Ins & Outs of Charcuterie Boards

Call it a cheese board, a meat and cheese plate, or just plain tasty—charcuterie (pronounced shahr-koo-tuh-ree) boards are a great alternative to passed appetizers, warm apps, or otherwise fussy food options for cocktail hours and parties. And bonus: they’re classy as heck and make a real show-stopping impression when put together well.

The Ins & Outs of Charcuterie Boards

Charcuterie Board Equipment

First things first: gather your surfaces. Choose your board based first on how many folks you hope to feed, then upon your personal aesthetic. A large butcher block cutting board might do, or a small slice of food-grade slate. Maybe a large porcelain serving plate is more your style? Some home goods stores have even been known to sell charcuterie boards with dedicated and labeled areas for different components—fun, but not very creative. You do you, boo. Aside from the board itself, be sure to collect ramekins for holding smaller items and for holding any moist or juicy foods (you don’t want that olive juice mixing with your brie, now do you?), dipping cups, knives, and individual snack plates and napkins to set next to the primary plate for your guests’ convenience.

The Ins & Outs of Charcuterie Boards

Cheeses and Berries and Meats, Oh My!

Now that you’ve got your equipment, how do you put together a charcuterie board that’ll wow guests and influence appetites? Start with the basic component categories

  • Cured meat: This is, after all, what this crowd-pleasing plate is named for, so meats should be given a good portion of the board’s real estate. A visit to the deli counter at your local grocery store is a fine place to start. Also consider looking at packaged cured meat selections, many of which contain bite-sized or pre-cut options.
  • Cheese: Ah, perhaps the most beloved ingredient of a charcuterie board—hence how often it’s called a cheese plate or cheese board! A little bit goes a long way with cheeses, but don’t let that stop you from including two, or three, or—why not—even four in small amounts! Consider a hard cheese, a soft cheese, and a crumbly cheese, and mix and match those flavor profiles.
  • Bread: You’re going to need something to put all that meaty, cheesy goodness onto, after all. A single sliced baguette can do the trick, but a selection of differently shaped and flavored crackers is also a fine option. Toasted pieces of bread—crostini—are also a nice touch. Consider including both a crunchy and a chewy option.
  • Fruit: Some folks prefer dried fruit, some prefer fresh—why not feature both? If you’re including anything larger than grapes or berries, slice them thin so they’re not unwieldy—and so you can arrange them well. When selecting fresh fruit for your charcuterie board, keep in mind what’s in season, whether it’s spring, summer, fall, or winter, for best results.
  • Spreads: Jams, jellies, mustards, chutneys, and other spreadable delights can lend extra variety and fun with flavors to your charcuterie board. You may have some favorites on hand in the cupboard or fridge already.
  • Nuts and other small savories: Think beyond the peanut, here. Walnuts, almonds, chestnuts—you get the idea. Olives are also a nice touch, just make sure they’re pitted

Remember that while your charcuterie board should be bountiful, it need not contain a ton of any one thing. Purchasing small portions of each item will do just fine—and it won’t break the bank. If you select one premium meat or cheese, feel free to offer only a small amount of it alongside other options that are less select but just as tasty. Consider venturing beyond your regular grocery store—small specialty shops and grocers that specialize in foods of other cultures are fine places to find unexpected additions.

Selecting items from each of these categories can be overwhelming, so consider themes if that makes it easier: seasonal, regional, or based upon a favorite book or movie. Match your charcuterie board selections to your party’s theme and get ready for rave reviews.

The Ins & Outs of Charcuterie Boards

Charcuterie Board Assembly & Presentation

You’ve gathered your board and other vessels and selected your foods—now it’s time to slice, cut, fan, space, stack, and assemble!

The key to assembling your charcuterie board is grouping like with like then filling in spaces. Try fanning out your sliced fruit, arranging rows of crackers or baguette pieces, and rolling or crimping slices of meats. Fill in gaps with grapes, nuts, or olives. Place any small bowls for dips or other tiny or moist items onto your board first so you don’t have to redo any placements. If you have a centerpiece, build out from the middle of your board arrangement like spokes on a wheel. Don’t forget to look to your favorite recipe sites and bloggers for inspiration. And, most importantly, have fun! This is when you get to let all your awesome selections shine.

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