The appetizer is the perfect opening act to the main course. That's why a well-designed charcuterie board is so important - the entire board should reflect the essence of the party. In this post, we'll show you how to make a charcuterie board to fit your party’s theme and delight people at the same time. One of the secrets to making an impressive charcuterie board is how you slice and arrange your meats, fruits, and cheeses. It's much more than just the crackers, toasts, and spreads. Read on to learn more about what goes on a charcuterie board and how to make one that will impress your guests.
How Did Charcuterie Boards Originate?
Charcuterie is the culinary art of curing and preserving meat, primarily for eating out-of-season. Traditionally, charcuterie was created by farmers who would prepare pork and game meats in their own homes to preserve them for later use. Some farmers would smoke or dry meats as well. Today, there are many different types of charcuterie, but the most common kind is made from cured ham, bacon, sausages, pâtés and other similar meats. Cured meats are often served with a creamy dressing, like hollandaise or béarnaise sauce, and accompanied by bread or vegetables such as apples or radishes.
Where Did the Name "Charcuterie Board" Come From?
The looser English translation of the French word charcuterie is "pork butcher shop," though the more literal translation comes from the French words “chair” (flesh) and “cuit” (cooked). However, today's charcuterie meats are not limited to just pork. Modern charcuterie boards can be made with a variety of different meats and ingredients, including cured ham, prosciutto, pâté, foie gras, salami, and more. They are most often served as appetizers and they have become popular at parties and other social events. Charcuterie is a perfect example of how a common food like ham can be served in many ways. In France, the person preparing the board is called a Charcutier. Continue reading and you may want to adopt that title for yourself!
What Is a Charcuterie Board?
A charcuterie board is a collection of cured meats, cheeses, and accompaniments meant to be eaten together. Some charcuterie boards are made up of just meats and cheeses, and some have accompaniments. Other accompaniments include bread, olives, nuts, and spreads. You can decide how to make a charcuterie board by combining these items into a display. It is recommended that you start with a cheese board or meat platter first and then add other foods like the accompaniments listed above. It is also recommended that you use meats and cheeses that are not too salty because the salt content of meats can make cheeses taste salty. For variety, a charcuterie board should include at least five complementary ingredients.
How to Choose the Right Ingredients for a Charcuterie Board
One of the best ways to decide on the right ingredients for a charcuterie board is to start with a theme. Some examples of charcuterie board themes are ethnic/international such as Italian or Mexican, meal "schedule" types like breakfast or dessert, deconstructed or assembly line style like waffles or tacos, holiday-related like Halloween or Thanksgiving charcuterie boards, or more traditional appetizer boards including cured and uncured meats, cheeses, and condiments. If you have a group of people following a specific nutritional lifestyle, you can even build a keto charcuterie board or a vegan charcuterie board, to name just a couple.
Charcuterie Board Meats
If you are creating a themed charcuterie board, it makes sense to include meats that make sense for that theme - for instance, if your board is following a breakfast theme, it would be a good idea to include meats like ham, bacon, sausage, or chorizo. For a more traditional charcuterie board, it's common to include the following types of meats:
- Pâté (typically liver)
Charcuterie Board Cheeses
Because your guests are likely to have a wide variety of preferences when it comes to the cheeses they enjoy, it's a good idea to include four types on your board: hard, soft, aged, and blue (or bleu, for those who prefer the French spelling). Try to offer flavors that are sharp, smooth and creamy, smoky, and even slightly sweet. Everyone should be able to create their own combinations of cheeses and other ingredients that are interesting to their individual palettes.
Examples of Hard Cheeses for Charcuterie Boards
- Sharp Cheddar
- Hint: Check with your local grocery or deli and ask them what's good or popular now
Examples of Soft Cheeses for Charcuterie Boards
- Goat Cheese
- Cream Cheese
Examples of Aged Cheeses for Charcuterie Boards
- Parmesan (hint: if you have the budget and you want to go all out, opt for Parmigiano Reggiano)
Examples of Blue (Bleu) Cheeses for Charcuterie Boards
Some people who aren't big fans of blue cheese don't realize how many different varieties there are! The four main types are stilton, gorgonzola, Roquefort, and cabrales - but there are dozens more! How about:
- Dragon's Breath
Want to learn about even more varieties of blue cheese? You'll find that and more about almost any type of cheese in the World Cheese Book.
Charcuterie Board Spreads, Dips, and Sauces
It's common to include jams, jellies, and fruit preserves on a charcuterie board, but you don't need to be limited to the classic jam or jelly spread. Use any fruit that you want to enjoy in a spread! Try dried fruits such as raisins, apricots, figs, or dates; fresh fruit such as berries, apples, pears, or peaches; or even citrus fruits like oranges, tangerines, or lemons. Of course (shameless plug warning!), you can try some of the delicious jams and preserves available from Spoonabilities, or the sweet red pepper and graviera cheese spread pictured above.
Charcuterie Board Spreads
Charcuterie board spreads should be easily spreadable on crackers or bread, and like all of your ingredient groups, should offer different flavor profiles. Some examples of great charcuterie board spreads are:
- Extra virgin olive oil with balsamic vinegar
- Tapenade (most often made with olives)
Charcuterie Board Sauces
The best charcuterie board sauces are those that you make yourself because you’ll always know exactly what’s in them and you can control their quality. However, there are still high-quality sauces available at your grocery, specialty food store, or online. Plus, sauces aren’t just for charcuterie boards. They’re versatile enough to serve with pasta, roasted meats, eggs, and vegetables.
Some sauces like mustard sauces (for example, moutarde de Meaux) are tangy and offset spicy meats, and others are sweet to complement soft cheeses. Béarnaise is a classic French sauce, traditionally served with steak, or Hollandaise could be a great addition to a breakfast board.
Think about what kind of flavor you want to bring out from your charcuterie board ingredients and let that guide your choice of sauces to offer.
Charcuterie Board Dips
The main thing to keep in mind when choosing your charcuterie dips is that you need to have at least one or two options that are fairly neutral in flavor. If you’re going to dip something as savory as prosciutto, you want to make sure there are a few dips on the table that don’t take things to the extreme.
When you're ready to add some more interesting sauces or dips in addition to the more neutral ones, there are a few things to consider:
- Choose one dip that has a nice balance between sweet and savory.
- Think about the flavors and textures of the dips. How does it taste on a cracker? On bread? What ingredients are included in the dip?
- Consider the context of the dips. Is it for a party or a dinner? How is it served?
- If you were planning to serve the dips with something else, what would that be?
- Are there any alternatives to the dips that you’d recommend instead?
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Charcuterie Board Fruits
Fruits add some sweetness or citrus to your charcuterie board. Fruits like apples and pears add nice contrast to savory meats and cheeses.
Grapes are another popular option for charcuteries. Grapes are mild in flavor, but because of their texture it's smart to serve them near cheese. Most guests won't naturally pair a grape with a cracker, but if the grapes are right next to some mozzarella or cheddar, they may (correctly) assume that these are better combinations.
Berries go exceptionally well with soft cheeses like brie or goat cheese.
And don’t forget about dried fruits! Dried figs, plums, or apricots pair well with most cheeses.
In addition to classic charcuterie board fruits like apples, grapes, and berries, you can also include other favorites like bananas and mangoes. Here are some other charcuterie board fruit ideas:
Make the most of these charcuterie board fruits by serving them alongside the meats, cheeses, and dips on your board. For example, if you’re making a charcuterie board with smoked turkey, you can use apples and pears as your charcuterie board fruits. If you’re making a charcuterie board with smoked ham, cantaloupe pairs nicely. Berries pair especially well with cheese. There are endless possibilities!
Charcuterie Board Breads and Crackers
Charcuterie isn't eaten on its own - it needs a delivery option to get the deliciousness into our faces! Bread and crackers add stability to each bite. But you don’t need to feel like you have to offer the whole bakery with your board. Remember, what goes on a charcuterie board is totally up to you!
A couple of bread options should be enough. Choose a bread that doesn't have a heavy flavor or extra ingredients like herbs and cheese baked in. It's not ideal to serve bread that ends up competing with the flavors of everything else on the charcuterie board.
Baguette slices are perfect as a base and can be served toasted or untoasted. You can slice a baguette, brush on extra virgin olive oil with or without garlic, and toast it in the oven to make crostini.
Do you have tzatziki or a horseradish spread on your board? Rye or pumpernickel slices could be a great option. As with everything else, think of your themes and the taste combinations you want to achieve.
There are crackers of every size, color, and consistency. Wheat crackers, soda crackers, butter crackers, rice crackers, and more.
Again, two or three options should be just fine, and avoiding extra flavors like cheese and herbs is a good plan.
Offer something buttery and slightly sweet like Ritz crackers, something with virtually no flavor like water crackers, and something dense and stable like whole grain crackers. Arrange them however you like on your board - whether that's fanned or stacked - just make sure to keep them as close as possible to the ingredients you would recommend pairing with them.
How to Make a Charcuterie Board That’s the Right Size
The size of the charcuterie board you use should be determined by the number of people being served. If the charcuterie board will be the primary food, there should be roughly 12 ounces of meat (or veggies if it's a vegan event) and/or cheese, or if the board will include appetizers before the main course, use roughly ⅓ of that amount. Then you will need room for fruits, nuts, crackers, spreads and dips, or anything else you've planned. Keep in mind that how you arrange the ingredients is up to you, but it's probably best not to push everything too closely together. There needs to be a visual appeal and it helps if foods are grouped intuitively. A lot of people love to be creative with their choices, but a little guidance never hurts. If you follow these guidelines, it’s easier to determine how to make a charcuterie board that hits all the right notes.
What Can I Use As a Unique and Interesting Charcuterie Board?
There are all kinds of materials used for charcuterie boards: bamboo, walnut, oak, slate, even plastic or glass. Charcuterie boards can be any style from a basic cheese board or cutting board to platters with storage, bowls, and utensils. Long boards, oval, circular, unique shapes - if you need it, you can probably find it on one of many sites that sell kitchen and dining products. Don't have a board, but have a good size counter in the kitchen? Try lining it with wax paper or parchment paper and make your "charcuterie board" on the counter itself.
How to Choose Appropriate Charcuterie Board Utensils
As mentioned above, some charcuterie boards come with utensils like knives, spoons, and cocktail forks included. And of course it depends on your ingredients, especially when it comes to dips, spreads, and sauces. Here are some charcuterie board utensils to consider:
- Cheese knives
- Small spoons
- Small forks
- Appetizer picks
- Mini tongs
- Honey dipper
And of course, some serving options like:
- Appetizer plates
- Dipping bowls
- Mini skillets
How Much Do Charcuterie Boards Cost?
While it's difficult to pinpoint exactly how much charcuterie boards cost, there are some ranges of pricing for ingredients and supplies that can help you plan your charcuterie board budget.
Charcuterie Board Meat Cost
- Salami: $1.50 - $3 per ounce
- Pancetta: $1 - $2 per ounce
- Pepperoni: $0.75 - $3 per ounce
- Sopresatta: $1 - $5 per ounce
- Capocollo: $2.50 - $5 per ounce
- Mortadella: $0.60 - $2 per ounce
- Chorizo: $1 - $3 per ounce
- Prosciutto: $2.75 - $6 per ounce
- Pâté (typically liver): $0.75 - $2 per ounce
- Sausage: $1 - $3 per ounce
- Serrano Ham: $0.50 - $2 per ounce
Charcuterie Board Cheese Cost
- Hard cheeses: $1.25 - $3 per ounce
- Soft cheeses: $1 - $3 per ounce
- Blue cheeses: $1 - $5 per ounce
- Aged cheeses: $1 - $6 per ounce
Charcuterie Board Fruits and Veggies Cost
Pricing is going to vary drastically depending on the types of produce you would like to include on your charcuterie board. However, as a general rule, you can plan for:
- Fresh produce: $1 - $5 per pound
- Dried fruit: $4 - $12 per pound
Charcuterie Board Jellies, Jams, and Honey Cost
Jellies and jams will typically range between $2 - $3 per four ounces. If you are including honey, plan to spend $5 - $10 per 12 ounces, depending on the type - everyday store-bought honey will be the least expensive, and special varieties or locally-produced organic honey will be at the higher end of the scale.
Charcuterie Board Dips and Sauces Cost
If you choose store-bought dips and sauces rather than making your own, it would be fair to say that there will be a wide range, likely between $4 - $12 per 16 ounces.
Charcuterie Board Olives and Pickles Cost
Adding a touch of briny bite to your board will normally run around $3 - $6 per pound.
Charcuterie Board Nuts Cost
Nuts can be a savory and salty addition to your board - just keep in mind that they’re going to cost between $5 and $15 per pound.
Charcuterie Board Crackers and Bread Cost
When it comes to cracker and bread pricing, that also changes based on your selections, so we will again offer a broader range:
- Crackers: $4 - $10 per pound
- Bread: $2 - $7 per loaf
Charcuterie Board and Supplies Cost
- Charcuterie board: $25 - $100+ each
- Complete charcuterie board set including bowls and utensils: $50 - $200 per set
- Cheese knives: $15 - $75 per set
- Small spoons: $2 - $5 each
- Small forks: $2 - $5 each
- Appetizer picks: $1 - $2 each
- Mini tongs: $2 - $10 each
- Honey dipper: $5 - $10 each
Expand Your Charcuterie Board Knowledge
If you would like to expand your knowledge of how to make a charcuterie board, take a look at another one of our articles about charcuterie board ideas. Enjoy!
The Spoonabilities Guide to Charcuterie Boards
- Charcuterie Board Ideas - Party Appetizers
- Guide to a Perfect Charcuterie Board
- How to Make a Charcuterie Board That Impresses
- The Best Boards for Charcuterie in 2022
- How to Make a Vegan Appetizer Board
- How to Build a Mediterranean Mezze Platter
- Charcuterie Board Shopping List - How to Shop for a Great Appetizer Experience
- Dips and Crackers for Charcuterie Boards - Jams, Sauces, Bread, and More
- Meats for Charcuterie Boards: Meat and Cheese Choices