When you hear someone say “charcuterie board,” you probably immediately imagine a lavish spread of meats, cheeses, olives, nuts, and dried fruit. Instagram has fooled us all into thinking that we need a dozen things artfully arranged on a reclaimed wood or marble board, but in reality, for simple entertaining, you can make a budget charcuterie board with only a few items.
The first thing you need to know is that there are no rules for making a charcuterie board. You should use what you like, and you don’t need to splurge for the aged prosciutto straight from Parma, Italy, or cheeses that you can’t pronounce. In fact, you can arm yourself with $20 and march right over to the deli counter at any grocery store to start. Ask for hard salami and mortadella (aka fancy bologna) thinly sliced, about ¼ lb. of each. If your deli has soppressata (spicy salami), that is a nice upgrade, or scope out any other cured meats that interest you.
After that, head over to the cheese counter — or, in less fancy stores, the refrigerated section where the cheese is — and get a chunk of the most aged Parmesan you can find. The longer cheese is aged, the more flavorful it is, and the punch of saltiness paired with the cured, fatty-in-the-best-way meat makes the perfect bite. About ¼ lb. of Parmesan can stretch a long way if you break it into little nuggets, using it as a separator between the different meats on the board. Drape the meat in a way that is easy for people to grab rather than folding it perfectly. That way it will take up more space on the board and appear fuller, even if you can’t afford to buy a lot of each type.
If you aren’t into Parmesan, get a nice piece of fresh mozzarella that will pair with the Italian meats, or go for a sharp cheddar or brie. Don’t try to think about what everyone will like; you can’t please everyone, so just stick to your budget and what you like, and it will turn out great. The best entertaining dishes come from a host who clearly enjoyed making them! A handful of olives or smoked almonds or dried fruit (or all three) can add some color, texture, and other flavors to the board, but don’t go too wild and crazy. Add some form of carb — crackers, crostini made from toasted baguette slices, or water crackers — on the side, and voila! You’re a charcuterie plate master. Now, don’t forget to take a photo for the ’gram, and pat yourself on the back for nailing simple entertaining with the best budget charcuterie plate that looks like a million bucks.