Char·cu·ter·ie /shar-ku-tuh-ree/ noun
The pantry cleanser, the crowd pleaser, the simplest most delicious meal replacement, and the essence of artful (and easy!) entertaining.
A charcuterie board is not just something you eat—it’s a beautiful and delectable experience. No need to turn on the oven for this course, just gather, arrange, and enjoy! This no-stress spread of meats, cheeses, and delicious extras comes together as a gorgeous party pleaser that can be as simple or extravagantly artistic as you’d like. It’s all about variety, which pleases both eye and palate and helps provide endless pairing options. Grab your board and, with these helpful tips, you can create a mouthwatering centerpiece for your next gathering!
MAKE IT STANDARD, SURPRISING, AND SPECIAL
A great charcuterie can look like a million bucks but doesn’t have to bankrupt your weekly food budget. It’s a flexible art form in which you can incorporate anything you have on hand or what happens to be on sale. Use the three S’s as your guide and plan to incorporate the standard, the surprising, and the special. Consider filling 50-75% of your board with standard, inexpensive ingredients. Use the remaining portion to fill with one or two extra special or rare items that will wow your guests. Then, be sure to include a few surprising elements. Here are some ingredient ideas to help inspire your perfect board:
MEATS | Sliced smoky or pepper meats, summer sausage, salami, prosciutto, ham, sweet sopressata, chorizo, and pepperoni are some of the most popular options for this hearty headliner. Slice meats thin and plan for approximately 2 oz. per person.
CHEESES | A wide range is key—mild, medium, soft, aged, sharp, hard, pungent, and spicy. Cut into triangles, cubes, sticks, or slices or leave whole with a spreading knife. Popular cheeses include: gorgonzola, aged cheddar, goat cheese, manchego, Brie, Gruyère, Camembert, blue cheese, Parmesan, or balled fresh mozzarella.
BREADS | Baguettes, grilled buttered crostinis, pretzels, and a variety of crackers pair nicely and provide stability to bites of meat and cheese without detracting from the flavor. Arrange them in stacks or flared, or curl them around a whole soft cheese.
FRUITS | While meat and cheese are the true stars of the show, it’s nice to compliment them with the color and sweetness of in-season fruit. Include fruits such as grapes, berries, oranges, peaches, or cherries, as well as dried fruit like mangos, cranberries, or apricots. Avoid fresh fruit that will turn brown quickly like bananas or apples, unless pre-soaked in citrus juice.
Add unexpected extras—olives, sweet pickles, halved pomegranate, shell-on pistachios, dark chocolate, hummus, bacon, beet chips, halved hard-boiled eggs, dates, sliced pear, roasted nuts, or raw honeycomb.
CREATE A BALANCED EXPERIENCE
A charcuterie board is the centerpiece of a gathering—more than just sustenance, but an experience! With a little extra thought, it’s easy to create a fun, delicious, and interesting experience. Only leave whole the cheeses that are easily separated with a knife and remove the casing from cured meats—because as beautiful as we love our boards to be, we want our guests to be able to enjoy the feast which means having things ready to serve. That said, balance the experience in order to leave room for creativity: Keep grapes in a bunch and let guests pluck them off, and arrange flavors at random, allowing the ingenuity of each individual palate to lead the way. Include some things pre-sliced and others that guests can slice on their own, something spreadable, and something towering. Provide extra-long toothpicks or mini-skewers for building assorted pairings.
When selecting each ingredient, keep in mind the board as a whole, paying close attention to texture, color, size, shape, spice, and temperature. Varying these elements engages and pleases the senses. Don’t shy away from variety; include foods that are briny, sweet, salty, savory, tangy, warm, and crisp.
Whole grain mustards, spreads, jams and fruit preserves, honey, and nut butters add a pop of color and intrigue of flavor, while creating extra visual appeal.
PRESENTATION IS EVERYTHING
The food in itself is quite simple: meats, cheeses, fruits, and crackers. But thoughtfully vary the way you display each of the items and watch a board of ordinary snacks transform into a masterpiece! For example, stack, roll, fold, twist, or pile up meats and cheeses. Hollow out an orange or pineapple for a bowl to hold fruits, spreads, or cubed cheeses. Slice half of the summer sausage roll, and leave the rest whole. Cut up some cheeses, while leaving others in large chunks with a cheese knife. Jarred spreads or ramekins give the platter another dimension. It’s a good idea to start with these—strategically placed—and work randomly around from there, mixing and matching arrangements.
Fill bare spots and garnish with organics. The visual look of a tightly-packed board is much more appealing than spread out ingredients. Consider filling those open areas with decorative items your guests could eat if they’d like, or organics that draw on the rustic charm. Sprigs of rosemary or thyme, single stem flowers or just the plucked blooms themselves, whole radishes or pearl onions, candied orange slices, flower petals, baby’s breath, handfuls of arugula, tri-colored peppercorns, or sliced figs are all great filler ideas.
Don’t forget the finishing touches! Drizzle hard meats with a touch of olive oil and top milder items with a sprinkle of Himalayan or flaky salt. Complete the spread with lit taper candles arranged behind your board, all atop a linen runner, and prepare to be applauded!
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