If you’ve hang out at The Mouse House with any regularity, chances are you’ve seen a charcuterie board or two (or ten).
It’s been a signature entertaining move for years, and will always be one of my favorite things to construct in the kitchen.
Let’s talk about what makes a great board, and peep some tips for creating the perfect presentation.
What is a charcuterie board?
Technically speaking, charcuterie is a type of cooking that focuses around cold, cooked and cured meats.
In French, “charcuterie” roughly means “pork butcher shop.”
Charcuterie traditionally includes pork products like ham, sausage, bacon, terrines, pate, and confit.
In recent times, charcuterie boards have expanded to include other types of cooked and cured meat and poultry, as well as cheese, fruit, veggies, and more.
Think of it as an appetizer board covered in mouthwateringly delicious nibbles.
What should you include on a charcuterie board?
When we entertain, I love to cover our table in different platters overflowing with a selection of meats, cheeses, fruits, veggies, and other good stuff.
When you put together a charcuterie board, always start by considering who your guests are.
Do they absolutely love pork? Or do they love beef? Do they like rich meats laced with creamy fat? Or spicy food?
Are they adventurous eaters (seek out different pates), or more conservative (stick to a safer, less exotic selection).
If you’re not sure, include a balanced mix of items so there’s something for everyone.
Balance is the key to a good board
Include both lean and fatty meats.
Consider a mix of flavors: spicy, salty, sweet, and bitter.
I love to also include astringent and sweet stuff to counter the fatty foods…things like pickled vegetables, sharp mustard, honey, and fruit.
My top 10 charcuterie board meats
It’s mild and most folks who will dig a charcuterie board will like it.Consider including a few types (smoked, honey, rosemary, etc.). Any kind of ham with rosemary in it is my personal favorite.
Prosciutto comes a few different ways, mostly by how long it’s been aged. (The longer it’s been aged, the more expensive it typically is.)It’ll come sliced paper thin. I like to rip each slices into 2 or 3 pieces to make it easier for guests to eat.
This is a boneless pork loin spiked with herbs and spices and wrapped in pork fat then roasted.If you can find it at your deli, it’s worth getting some, sliced paper thin. Some folks won’t like the fat on this (it can be a lot), but the ones who do will be delighted.
Salami is a big category. It’s a cured, air-dried sausage that’s made of pork meat, pork fat and spices, and that’s sometimes fermented.Salami broadly includes things like soppressata, pepperoni, genoa salami (pork, wine, fennel, garlic), salami cotto (cooked in addition to curing).
Pancetta is salted, air-cured pork belly, often rolled with herbs and spices. It’s not smoked. Again, because of the fat, not everyone is going to love this, but the ones who will…really will. This is one of my accent meats.
Bresaola is wafer-thin slices of cured, salted beef. Think prosciutto, but beef, not pork. (Technically, it can also be made of venison and other meats, but you’ll most often find it made of beef.)
I love to include this spicy, Spanish sausage made of fatty pork and spiked with hot paprika.
Spice-rubbed, dry-cured pork neck. ‘Nuff said.
Guanciale is made of tender, fatty pork cheeks that are cured and rubbed with spices. Totally worth seeking out.
Cured, smoked boneless ham fragrant with juniper berries, pepper, bay leaves, and garlic.
What should you include on a cheese board?
Whenever I put out a meat board, I almost always also do a cheese board as a complement.
I take the same approach, and get a mix of cheeses.
3 things to consider when picking cheeses
- Type of milk
I like to get a variety of cow, goat, and sheep’s milk cheeses. If your guests have more conservative palates, stick with cow, or milder versions of goat and sheep (they can get pretty gamey).
- Soft vs. hard cheeses
Consistency and mouth feel (HATE that term but it’s something to consider) play a big role in the kinds of cheese people like. Get some harder cheeses like cheddars, as well as some softer, spreadable cheeses like brie.
- Mild-flavored vs. strong cheeses
You’d never want to do a cheese board with all goat and blue cheese…unless you know your guests really well and know they’ll love this. Definitely mix it up. I love to do a mild blue (like a Danish) and a stronger one (a gorgonzola). Same thing with soft cheeses. Pick a mild brie and a stronger, aged taleggio. Most folks will generally like a mild cheddar or fresh mozzarella balls.
10 charcuterie board accents
I love to include a mix of lighter and more astringent things to cut through all the fat and cheese.
Consider including a few of these:
- Slow roasted garlic
- Local, raw honey
- Pickled vegetables
- Roasted mushrooms drizzled with good olive oil
- Raw vegetables
- Assorted olives (consider pitted vs. non-pitted, which can be harder to eat standing up)
- Sliced fruit
- Whole grain mustard
Making a great charcuterie plate
Once I put out a spread, I love to see what people choose…and also don’t touch.
Call me a nerd, I keep notes of guest favorites, as well as what NOT to buy again.
Here are some of my favorite recent plates.
A drizzle of good honey on small hunk of Parmesan is AMAZING.
This pate was great. The small hit of mustard on it really balanced out the fat.
Don’t forget the wine and good, crusty bread
Slice your bread thin, so folks don’t fill up on their first slice.
I love to include good crusty bread for crunch.
Where to shop for charcuterie
Find yourself a good cheese shop or grocery and make friends with the folks behind the counters.
And don’t be shy! Ask for samples to help you make the right selections. Also ask them for their recommendations if you need ideas.
In Boston, I love Formaggio Kitchen and Eataly.
Here’s Eataly’s meat and cheese section. It’s easily one of my favorite places in the city.
What do YOU include on your charcuterie boards?
Drop a comment below, let us know! I’m always looking to improve my charcuterie kung fu!