A charcuterie board is a lot more than just meat and cheese on a wooden cutting board – it is the foodie equivalent to a ‘choose your own ending’ story book. Traditionally, it is a curated collection of cured meats, specialty cheese, sweet jams, tangy pickles, fresh fruit, carbs like crackers and bread, and small servings of preserved and fresh veggies.
If you are feeling a little bit more adventurous, you can even throw in your own culinary wild card options – as charcuterie boards are becoming more and more popular, people are always adding in non-traditional component to their charcuterie, like cookies, chocolate, or dips.
If you have ever felt a little lost when assembling a charcuterie board (and you want learn how to make a charcuterie board recipe), then this article is for you.
We can expertly guide you through assembling your perfect charcuterie board to truly wow your guests (or even just treat yourself with, don’t worry we won’t tell). Read on to learn all about charcuterie, traditions and common faux pas.
First Things First, What Does Charcuterie Mean?
The word charcuterie has French linguistic roots, coming from the words ‘chair’ (which means flesh), and cuit (which means cooked). It is pronounces as ‘shar – koo – tuh – ree’.
The term generally refers to a wide range of cured meats – all the way from hard, thin sliced cuts of ham, to cured sausages, to soft, pate like spreads. In France, the word charcuterie can refer to the shop that sells these kinds of preserved/cured meats.
In dining, the term charcuterie can refer to a starter course for a formal occasion, or it can spotlight as the light-meal centerpiece at a casual gathering. It typically focuses on a ‘pick and choose’ style board of cured meats, cheese, fruits, veg, pickles, and jams.
The key appeal of a charcuterie board is its versatility, as it give both the chef and the foodie a chance to mix and match their flavors and textures.
You can choose to focus on a particular style of board, or a particular region, and you can substitute or totally leave out any components that don’t take your fancy.
You can exclude bread and crackers if you want a gluten free board, or swap out pate for hummus, if you are wanting a vegetarian board. Conversely, you have the freedom to double down on your favorite ingredients – for example, you could have multiple pates, from various regions of France.
How To Assemble Your Perfect Charcuterie Board
If you want to construct the perfect charcuterie board, then you need to ask yourself teh following questions:
- Do you want to focus on a specific country or region, or do you want to mix and match different items from across different country cuisines?
- Which ingredients do you actually have access to at your local supermarket? Will you have to go to a specialty grocery store? If you aren’t able to find something locally, do you want to order it online from a specific specialty retailer?
- What are the dietary restrictions or conditions that you will have to accommodate.
It is always important to bear in mind that a charcuterie board is not just what you eat, but is also hugely visual, and people will focus on how the components are arranged.
Once you have chosen your culinary elements, you will have to decide how you want to arrange your board. Here are a few of our favorite ideas.
- Place everything on a flat wooden surface, like a butcher’s block, or a large cutting board. You will need an additional surface on which to assemble your components if your guest list includes any vegetarians or vegans.
- You can color-code multiple different platters, by using white plates/platters and having color accents (such as jam, fruit, pickles, and veggies). Alternately, you can showcase and compliment meats, cheese, and breads, with a range of colored plates.
- Add a set of small tags, with descriptions of what each item is, and where it comes from, as well as important dietary information (such as whether a board is gluten free, vegetarian, or contains nuts).
How Much Charcuterie Will You Need For Your Board?
The first thing you should work out is how much meat you will need for your board – and thankfully for your wallet, it is probably less than you think. Charcuterie is rich, fatty stuff, so a little goes quite a long way.
If your charcuterie is an appetizer or starter, then you can estimate that you will need about two ounces per person. If you are intending on serving the charcuterie board as a main course, you should have ounces per person.
The Key Component Of Charcuterie Boards – Meat
You will want a variety in the type of meat that you are serving. There are two basic types of meat – crudo (which is raw cured meat), and cotto (which is cooked meat).
You will have to balance the two together – cured meats, such a prosciutto and salami, are a little saltier, and more intense, and will therefore have to be balanced against the fatty sweetness of a cooked meat, such as ham.
Here are some popular and traditional suggestions on what you should consider when picking the meats for your charcuterie board:
Something Pre-Sliced – you will need something thinly sliced (rather than the thicker cuts that are usually used in sandwiches). You will be able to serve these sliced, either flat, or in loose rolls. Whole cuts of pre-sliced cured meats may include:
- Prosciutto – which is Italian cured pork legs which are salted and air-dried. Jamon Serrano/jamon Iberico – which is a Spanish ham, which has a slightly different curing process, though it does have a comparable taste and texture.
- Lomo de cerdo (which is often referred to as ‘lomo’ for short) – this is cured pork tenderloin, and has Spanish culinary roots. The Italian version of this meat is called lonzo.
- Bresaola – this is Italian beef tenderloin, which has been salted and then air dried: the Spanish version is called Cesina.
- Guanciale – this is a kind of bacon which has been made from pork jowl, and is often considered quite similar to pancetta, though it has a richer, and more pork like flavor.
- Filetto bacciato (which translates to ‘kissed fillet’) – this meat is cured loin, which has then been wrapped in salami. It gets its name from its appearance – when it is sliced, it is said to look like a kiss-ready pair of puckered lips.
- Mortadella – this is essentially grown up baloney, though it has a richer, more complex flavor, and a silkier texture.
- Speck – this is a type of German, cured or smoked pork shoulder, which is said to to be quite similar to prociutto, but has more smoky, juniper notes.
Something That You Can Slice – in addition to pre sliced wafer-thin cured meats, you will also want something a little chunkier that guests can slice themselves. We suggest that you go for things like:
- Hard salami – often referred to as the ‘king of salami’, has sweet notes that are complimented with peppercorns and white wine.
- Sopressata – a more coarsely ground kind of Italian salami, and can be found in both round, or flattened/pressed varieties. Both sweet and spicy kinds are available.
- Smoked sausage or ham – smoked means bring refreshing bitterness to the board, though usually just one smoked meat is quite enough.
- Finocchiona – this is a delicious Italian salami, and is made with fennel for refreshing bite and sweetness.
Something That You Can Spread – you will also need some kind of spreadable meat, such as French style pate, rillette, or terrine. These spreads can be made from nearly any kind of meat – from duck, chicken, salmon or boar.
- Pate – is a smooth or chunky kind of meat spread, normally made from the livers of ducks or chickens.
- Terrine – similar to pate, but with chunkier pieces incorporated, which many include vegetables or herb seasoning. There are vegetarian options available on the market.
- Rillettes – slow cooked meats, typically rabbit, pork, or duck, that has been shredded and combined with both fat and herby seasonings, until it is spreadable.
The Other Stuff On Your Charcuterie Board – Accents
Now that we have all of the main, meaty components to your charcuterie board down, you will need some accents to compliment your animal based charcuterie centerpiece.
They refresh the palate after a lot of salt, and fatty, rich, meaty flavors.
We think that you should go for things like:
- Pickles (can be made with cucumbers, other vegetable pickles.
- Fresh fruit that is in season.
- Jam, chutney, or other preserves
- Hummus or other bean dips
- Coarse sea salt and cracked black pepper.
Regardless of whether you are serving a charcuterie board to your guests as a starter or main course (or just making one for yourself and a treat), the meat products are really the central component.
When constructing your board, you should choose a few different varieties of meat – whether they are from different animals, countries, or are cured in different ways.
Add a few accessories – like some high quality carbs, jams pickles, and fresh fruit or veg, as a compliment to your meat selection, to craft the perfect charcuterie board.