Confession: When I search the photo albums on my phone for “cheese”, over 200 pictures show up. I love charcuterie boards and I strongly believe cheese should be considered its own love language. Trust me – I definitely know my way around a charcuterie board and they’ve become my go-to contribution for any party or get together. While scrolling through the photos on my phone during this social isolation, I found a few of the charcuterie boards I’ve put together recently and thought it would be fun to share exactly what I like to use on my charcuterie boards!
What is charcuterie?
Charcuterie is the branch of cooking that includes cold prepared meats like bacon, ham, pates, salamis, sausages, and the like. It’s essentially all the meat components of a “meat & cheese” board. Recently, charcuterie boards have become popular and now the term charcuterie (in pop culture) refers to both the meats & cheese on a plate. It’s the sampling of snacks you enjoy at your girlfriend’s wine night, it’s the appetizer you nibble on a date, it’s the grazing table you see at a wedding reception, it’s God’s gift to earth and we should enjoy it… often!
Where to start a Charcuterie board?
I like to make sure #1 – that I have a board. Seriously, I know I shouldn’t have to spell it out but a board just seems to work better than a platter. If you don’t have a special dedicated board, feel free to use a wooden cutting board from your kitchen! Side note – A nice charcuterie serving board and a set of cheese knives make the ultimate gift (just ask everyone at my last White Elephant gift exchange). You can also build on a marble or slate slab. Just look for something that’s large and flat. I personally like to use something without an edge or a lip so I can get creative with placement around the outer edge. I also recommend getting some small containers or ramekins in a couple different sizes. You’ll use these for spreads, dips, or things like artichoke hearts or olives that you don’t want dripping across your board.
The Main Components of Your Charcuterie Board
Let’s first start with cheese. I like to have at least three cheeses from different varieties. A good rule of thumb is to include a spreadable cheese, a sliced cheese, and cheese that gets sliced by the guest. Brie is a personal favorite of mine and a soft cheese so I might pair this with a firmer cheese like an aged cheddar (sliced into pieces) or gruyere. I also like to mix in something a little adventurous like a crumbly goat cheese, a flavored cheese, or a blue cheese. I love the honey goat’s milk, herb-crusted logs or the cranberry goat cheese from Trader Joe’s for a little unexpected twist. I also like to get my cheese from Ralph’s (Kroger for my Kentucky friends) cheese bar; they have a great selection and offer different sized cuts so you can mix & match or try something new without breaking the bank. They also have the best descriptions on their cheese labels, think Tinder meets cheese haha.
Same like your cheese, you’ll want a variety. I love prosciutto so it’s almost always a given. I also like salami and you can easily find combination packs at your grocery store that might include a traditional salami, a pepper cured rind, and a spicy version. Capocollo and soppressata are also two favorites of mine that I normally have on hand. I also like to make sure that I have a variety of different textures represented. If I have thinly sliced prosciutto and deli sliced soppressata, I’ll opt for a firmer thicker cut salami log. Playing with different combinations is always a good thing when it comes to charcuterie boards! It’s all about experimenting and seeing what works!
Bonus tip – a slice or two of charcuterie on a normal sandwich really elevates your lunch! I normally get my meats at the grocery store (by the deli or cheese sections) or Costco also has some great variety packs if you’re prepping for a party.
I like to slice & toast fresh baguettes and then supplement with a crunchy cracker, breadsticks, or even a flavored cracker. There are some great rosemary crackers or cracked black pepper wafers that are perfect for pairing with meat & cheese. You can also use whatever crackers you have. Remember – this doesn’t have to be crazy complicated. I recently made a cheese board for game night during social isolation with my boyfriend & roommate and only had a baguette and Ritz crackers on hand so guess what went onto the board?
Dips & Spreads
I like to either put some blank areas with my spreads or if you have some small ramekins on hand, you can really incorporate whatever dips you have on hand. At a minimum, I like to include a honey, dijon mustard (I could honestly eat the Sir Kensington’s from Thrive Market by itself and always have it) and a fruit compote or jam. Harry & David is worth checking out and placing an order to have some condiments on hand if you’re coming up on a busy entertaining period (or if you just love delicious spreads). You can order individual containers (no mega gift basket needed) and they have options ranging from appetizer spreads to dips, relishes & chutneys, preserves, and salsas. You can easily just open the jars and place them directly on your board. My favorites include their fire roasted bruschetta, country cranberry relish, and apple butter.
I also really like Trader Joe’s caramelized onion jam. It’s sweet, flavorful, and an inexpensive addition to your charcuterie board.
If you’re taking a charcuterie board to a party and can find it, fresh honeycomb is such a show stopper! Not only is it delicious but the visual is great too and many people have never had fresh honeycomb before!
I love berries and they pair so well with cheese so they’re a given. I like to include blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries (if I have them). I also always normally have an apple on hand and love the crunch of an apple with some sharp cheese so I’ll fan out some thin apple slices for my board as well. I prefer to use honeycrisps or a firm hybrid apple that has a hint of sweetness without being overly sweet, like a red delicious. If they’re in season or it’s around the holidays, I also love to fan out some thinly sliced pears.
If you’re like me and into the sweet and salty combo, dates are a great pairing with your meats. A bunch of grapes fits perfectly with a wine tasting theme and helps fill in any empty areas on your board. You can use red or green grapes, whichever you like best.
Don’t forget about dried fruits too! I love checking my pantry and including any dried fruit I may have had on hand for snacks like dried apricots. The apricots are delightful with a smooth cheese and a drizzle of honey or even with brie and a raspberry! While you’re at it, don’t forget to check your bar either. Some candied/dried oranges can also be easily incorporated into your spread.
I don’t love melon so I normally skip it but melon & prosciutto is a tried & true pairing so feel free to put some melon cubes or spears on your board too. While I’m all about using what you have on hand and making it work, don’t forget that if you’re planning in advance, you can pick up produce that you wouldn’t normally which is sure to excite your guests! If I know I’m taking a charcuterie board to a party, I like to grab some fresh figs and slice them for the board. Their coloring is so pretty, they’re unexpected, and they’re the perfect partner to many different wine & cheese flavor profiles so everyone wins!
I don’t always put a ton of veggies on my charcuterie boards but when I do I’m looking for veggies with a little crunch that can stand up to the flavor of the cheeses & almost like a cracker would aka a vessel to transport cheese. Some personal favorites include sliced cucumbers, baby carrots, mini tomatoes, or cornichons. I personally don’t like olives so I don’t include them but they pair so well with meat, cheese, and wine that they’re definitely considered a charcuterie board staple by most. Sliced peppers are also a favorite since they can be dipped and are an easy finger food. You can also add artichoke hearts, fill in empty spaces with broccoli florets, or even pickled veggies for a little antipasto action.
Finishing Touches For Your Charcuterie Board
I love pistachios and always have some in the pantry so they appear on almost all my charcuterie boards. I also love a fattier nut like walnuts or cashews and find they pair well with tart fruit and different cheeses. A spiced nut is also a great addition and can really make a charcuterie board feel seasonal around the holidays.
If you’re making a charcuterie board for a holiday get together, throwing some Trader Joe’s specialty themed cookies on your board definitely kick things up a notch! I’ve also added little brownie squares or small cookies to boards in the past if I was going for more of a grazing board situation. You can also add small bites of chocolate (or salted or caramel varieties) which pair great with wine & cheese!
I love picking up some fresh rosemary and thyme for my charcuterie boards. You can easily arrange the board and fill in any gaps with fresh herbs plus they make the board smell so good and give you a fresh pop of color!
Toothpicks & Cheese Knives
Make sure you have a set of cheese knives (different cheeses need different knives) and toothpicks or some sort of serving utensil so guests can help themselves without touching everything on the board with their hands.
Like I’ve said a few times before, a charcuterie board is supposed to be fun & filled with things you enjoy! If there’s something you have in your pantry you want to add, go for it! I just recently had a bag of caramel popcorn from a gift basket at work and it made a great addition to a charcuterie board I created. It’s all about enjoying what you’re eating and making it work for you!
So there you have it, everything I like to include on my charcuterie boards. Did I leave anything out that you love? Any creative suggestions I should be sure to try next time? Let me know in the comments below!