Charcuterie, a.k.a. cooked or cured meats served cold, is the perfect party food to serve as either an appetizer or main dish if you don’t want to cook. While charcuterie may seem simple due to the lack of cooking required, there is an art to selecting and assembling the perfect charcuterie board. Grab your marble and wood serving board and follow these seven steps to put together the best charcuterie board of your life.
- Decide if the board will be an appetizer or an entrée.
How much meat you serve will depend on whether or not the charcuterie board will be just an appetizer or the main event. If the charcuterie board is only intended to tide people over until dinner, then plan for 2 ounces of meat per person. If the charcuterie board is a meal, then double that figure to 4 ounces of meat per person.
It’s a good idea to slightly overbuy since you don’t want to run out if someone brings an extra guest. Don’t go overboard, however: A few extra ounces should do the trick perfectly. Note that this same portion rule also applies if you plan to serve cheese alongside your charcuterie.
After you determine your portion sizes, make sure to choose a board accordingly. When it comes to charcuterie setup, the options are endless! Choose a long board if you want to make a statement, or smaller multiple boards that highlight specific meats and cheeses from certain regions. Have fun with it!
- Select your meat types.
When choosing meat for your charcuterie board, you want to aim for variety in terms of flavor, texture and appearance. Most charcuterie boards feature 3-5 types of meat offering an excellent range without overwhelming the guests.
If you’re not sure where to start, try choosing meats in the following three categories: salty, smoky and spreadable. A nice raw salt-cured prosciutto is perfect for the first category, while country ham or andouille will cover the second, and a pâté will add a fun spreadable element to the board.
If you want to add another meat, choose something spicy with a kick to it, such as a hot capicola, to further diversify your charcuterie board. While most charcuterie meats are served cold, you can take a nice sausage and crisp it up on the griddle before serving if you want a hot option.
- Choose your bread and crackers.
Bread and crackers aren’t technically charcuterie, which refers only to the meat, but no charcuterie board is complete without these accompaniments. Since the meat is the star of the show here, there’s no need to get fancy with the bread and crackers unless you want to: Toasted slices of plain baguettes will do just fine.
However, if you want to get more elaborate, adding a variety of crackers and pieces of bread, including those with strong flavors, will enhance your charcuterie board even further. This is especially true if you plan to serve cheese alongside the meats since you want crackers that pair well with both proteins.
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- Explore other ingredients.
Charcuterie boards can be greatly enhanced by the inclusion of other ingredients. Cheeses are perhaps the most obvious one, but there are many other possibilities that will add much-needed elements of crunchiness, tanginess, sweetness and/or tartness to your charcuterie board.
Just like with choosing the meats, you will want to aim for variety and contrast when it comes to texture and flavor. Both raw fruits like oranges, apples and pears and vegetables such as pickles and olive are excellent choices since their acid will help to cut through the richness of the charcuterie and the cheese. You can also add Dijon mustard, fig jam and other ingredients to further diversify your charcuterie board.
- Consider your drink pairings.
Food isn’t the only thing that you need to consider when putting together a charcuterie board since you also need to choose the drinks as well. Both red and white wines can work, depending on what meats and cheeses you have chosen as well as your personal drinking preferences.
Keep in mind that white wines tend to be more acidic than red wines, making them a great palate cleanser for charcuterie boards full of spicy meats and strong cheeses. On the other hand, less acidic red wines with a light or medium body are a better pick for boards where the flavors aren’t as assertive.
- Lay out your presentation.
Now that you have all your ingredients on hand, it’s time to grab your kitchen accessories and create the actual charcuterie board! Take stock of your spread, and decide on what size of the board and how many bowls you need. You might also want to consider splitting everything up over two boards, especially if you are serving both meat and cheese.
While crowded charcuterie boards might look nice in photos, in reality, it makes it difficult for your guests to grab the ingredients that they want without knocking something over. When in doubt, always choose a bigger charcuterie board and space out your food a little bit to make serving easier for your guests.
- Leave yourself enough time.
Charcuterie boards take time to lay out, and rushing yourself is a surefire recipe for disaster. Give yourself a minimum of 30 minutes to lay out a charcuterie board and up to an hour if you are making a very elaborate spread with lots of ingredients.
Generally speaking, cold charcuterie boards should be made no more than half an hour before serving; otherwise, the meats and cheeses might start sweating before guests are ready to dig in. If you need to make the charcuterie board in advance, cover it with a towel and put it in the fridge until you are ready to serve it to your guests.
Charcuterie is the perfect food to serve at parties during these hot summer months, making a charcuterie board a must-have outdoor entertaining accessory. If you follow these seven expert tips, your charcuterie board will be sure to impress your guests.