There’s nothing more inviting and homely as a beautifully prepared and thought-out charcuterie board. Loaded with a plethora of delectable ingredients, it is one of the best ways to enjoy a snacky dinner or share a meal with friends.
The term charcuterie describes a branch of cooking involving prepared pork meats such as bacon, sausage, hams, and confit. Originally a French term, charcuterie translates directly as ‘pork shop butcher’.
In France, the chef who prepares the meat in a restaurant is called the Charcutier. Whilst the french terminology of charcuterie refers specifically to cured and prepared pork products, many modern charcuterie boards are a cornucopia of fine ingredients such as cheese, nuts, fruit, crackers, and dips.
Where does the honey come in? At first glance, honey may not seem like the obvious choice with meats and cheeses, but it is almost an essential part of the modern display. Honey’s sweet profile lifts the notes of strong sharp cheeses, as well as creamy savories such as brie. It also works particularly well with fine meats.
To be honest, it goes with pretty much everything! Believe us, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it, it’s a classic addition to a charcuterie board for a reason and you don’t want to leave it out!
What Are The Elements Of A Charcuterie Board?
Charcuterie boards are the perfect starter or sharing platter as they require no cooking, just a little planning to get right. If you put a little bit of effort and forethought into your charcuterie board you can have a drool-worthy meal in minutes!
If you’re new to building a charcuterie board, there are no real hard and fast rules so don’t get too overwhelmed, this is meant to be relaxing!
The common elements of a great charcuterie board are as follows:
- Fruits and Vegetables
Let’s break these down a little bit… Remember there are no set rules, and if you’re not planning on making a massive board you can leave some of these options out! But this is a definitive guide if you want to put on a real show stopper filled with variety and flavor.
What makes a charcuterie board stand out is an assortment of flavors and textures.
Here is a selection of four types of cheeses that work well together. Remember, you can use just a small slice or section of each, which you can normally find for good prices at your local cheesemongers or large deli or supermarkets. Try to get one from each of these categories.
- Aged Cheese- You’re looking for a cheese with a hard or firm texture, and a sharp flavor. Examples of this would be cheddar, gouda, or gruyere. (If you struggle to find gouda or gruyere, you should be able to get a good sharp cheddar relatively easily.)
- Soft Cheese- These make a great contrast to your sharper tangier cheese. Think along the lines of brie, camembert, or goat’s cheese. If you are on a more limited budget, a soft spreadable cheese such as Boursin or Philadelphia is a good alternative!
- Firm Cheese- These have a great bouncy texture. This is where you can splash the cash if you want! Examples include manchego cheese, padano gradano, parmesan or edam.
- Blue Cheese- A dab of rich blue cheese is the perfect accompaniment to your board. Even if you’re not a big fan, you’ll find the taste changes radically when you combine it with sweeter elements such as honey and chutneys. Try out something like gorgonzola, stilton, or Roquefort.
When choosing your meat selection, try to have one of all of these selections. If you’re making a vegetarian board, you can opt-out for the meats but add in some other vegetarian meat alternatives to keep the salty and savory flavors on the board.
- Sliced Whole Meat- This would be something like a thinly sliced jambon ham, prosciutto, or bresaola meats. You want something that has a thin texture and an intense flavor. Any thin-sliced Spanish or Italian cured meat will work well here.
- Smooth Meats- A spreadable meat such as pate works well here. If going for vegetarian options, you can now get amazing mushroom or nut pates.
- Thick-cut Meat- Add some heartiness and fullness to your board. This can range from salami, good quality chorizo, or sliced cured sausage.
- Dry Meat- Crisp bacon, pancetta or even beef jerky works well here. You’re looking for texture and a salty flavor here to add punch to your board.
This section is dependent on the size of your board. Bread or crackers are essential to carry all of the other ingredients. You want something strong enough to hold a nice selection of your cheeses and meats, and plenty of it if you don’t want to have leftovers of all your other elements- the bread ties the whole board together so factor that in when planning how many people the board will serve.
- Two Bread Options- A hearty sliced sourdough or sliced baguette paired with a sweeter flavored bread like focaccia or an infused rye bread works well here.
- Two Crackers- A flavorless water cracker works well here to highlight the other flavors on the board. A rich butter cracker also works here, or something hard like a breadstick or something else to dip into spreads.
Fruit And Vegetables
This isn’t just to be healthy, we promise! You can go according to your preferences here, and you’ll be surprised how much a bite of a crisp fruit or veg can meld with the other more intense flavors, both sweet and salty.
- Two Sweet Options- This would be something like grapes (a master pairing with sharp cheese and honey), sliced strawberry, pickled beetroot, fig slices, or sliced apple.
- Two Savoury Options- Dried fruits like dates or apricots work well here, sliced carrot or celery is also great for dipping and adding a bit of color to your board.
Again, this is up to personal preference. Have a go trying out a few testers with the cheeses and meats you have selected to see what pairs best. Try to have two of each of these selections. You don’t need too much of each but having a bit of variety is excellent when having a sharing platter.
- Two Sweet Options- Don’t skip on the honey here! Try with a slice of brie and a flake of prosciutto for a mouthful of heaven. One of your sweet options should include high-quality honey- you can find amazing flavored kinds of honey such as jalapeno chili for a savory-sweet kick. Other additions could be fruit chutneys, fig jam, or apple spread.
- Two Savoury Options- A spicy dip works well here, like a curried chutney, or grainy mustard. Team with a savory spread like houmous or white bean spread for dipping.
Finish off your board with nibbles and textures to bring your board together. Try to grab as many of these as you can, filling them into gaps on your board to create a beautiful picture that’s good enough to eat.
- Crunch- Nuts like roasted peanuts, cashews, pistachios, or pecans.
- Soft- Black and green olives both work perfectly here. You can get flavored ones stuffed with garlic or pimento for a pop of color.
- Aesthetic- Finish with some freshly cut sprigs of basic, thyme(great with honey and cheeses), rosemary (perfect for meats), or sage.
Styling Your Board
Your board should look crowded and bursting with life. A wooden board is the most rustic and beautiful option to go with. Start by arranging your cheeses along the length of the board as your showstoppers from end to end.
Then, add your dips as they’ll take up the most space. Then, arrange your meats, keeping them looking natural. Fill in the gaps with your fruits, veg, and final touches.
Follow this guide and you are guaranteed to have a perfect charcuterie board, with every ingredient that compliments each other and has enough choice that everyone can have their dream bite. Don’t be afraid to try a bit of everything in advance.
Everything on the board should go perfectly together. Honey is a key part of the charcuterie board, and if you’re not convinced, just try it out! You’ll find that it goes with just about every ingredient on the board and compliments both the savory and salty elements. Happy Eating!