How to Make a Charcuterie Board
Charcuterie boards are all the rage right now…and for good reason! Filled with a rainbow of meats, cheeses, crackers, nuts, spreads, and crackers…they’re basically a smorgasbord of everything that’s delicious in the world. I’ve been enjoying charcuterie boards for several years now, but it hasn’t been until the last year-and-a-half or so, that I’ve tried my hand at creating them at home. I’ll preface all of this by saying that I’m no expert, but I still thing the charcuterie boards I make up are still lovely to look at and even better to eat! The beauty is, you don’t have to be an expert! You just need a little knowledge, a few pieces of serving ware, and an appetite.
First things first, do some taste testing. We have a few places here in Des Moines that are more than happy to let you try before you buy…so you’re sure to get the ones you like! Hy-Vee, Gateway Market, and The Cheese Shop are all great resources for learning about and tasting different varieties of both meats and cheeses.
Now, I have to say that The Cheese Shop is a next level experience. It’s quaint + cozy, but most of all, they know their stuff. You can walk it, let them know what your plans are for their products, and they’ll let you taste and ask all the questions! They’re super helpful and want you to learn! Bonus, you can have a sit down in the shop and enjoy one of their amazing meat/cheese plates or charcuterie boards. They are, after all, the masters. While you’re there, pick up a few of the extra bits that make the charcuterie boards so yummy…pickled veggies, spreads, crackers…oh, yeah…and wine! I mean, the wine doesn’t go on the boards, obvs, but it makes the experience of eating them that much better!
Okay! Enough yammering! Let’s get to the good stuff! Now, in keeping with how I roll…I’ve thrifted all the serving pieces for our charcuterie boards, except the cheese knife. I probably could have found one, but I wanted it and didn’t want to wait. It was only $6, though, so not too bad. THIS set is reasonably priced and super stylish. Everything else, though, I’ve pulled together from a few junking trips—a wooden cutting board + a variety of glasses/serving bowls (they add height to the board and allow you to keep the different food items separated a bit. Plus, then, you can add even more goodness around the bottom of them!
Once you have your serving/display pieces for the charcuterie board, you can buy the food! Here’s where things can get overwhelming, but they really don’t have to! The categories I try to include in my boards (but even these can vary, depending on what I feel like or have on hand):
Cheese—Ok, wow. There really is an endless variety of cheese, so this is why you need to do a little taste testing to see what you like. I know my personal taste leans toward 3 kinds of cheese—sharp white cheddar, mild blue cheese, and soft goat cheese. Occasionally I’ll add a Brie, if I’m in the mood. You don’t have to get snobby about the cheese or think that you have to do different varieties every time. The point is to actually enjoy eating it, after all. One thing I like to do, though, is maybe try one different variety every time. You might actually find that you like something that you didn’t think you did!
Meat—Charcuterie is (according to Wikipedia), “the branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products,” but all the other ingredients have made their way onto the charcuterie boards as a complement to the meat. Most of the meat products on charcuterie boards are dried and aged. My favorites are salami, prosciutto, and lardo (you can find out more about that HERE). You can really add anything you like, but it’s nice to have a mix of harder meats and some that are softer like a cold-cut, so you can enjoy them with a variety of the “add-ons”.
Spreads—This is where things get fun! A lot of people like to build a little “sandwich” with their charcuterie ingredients, in which case, you can use the spreads as a “spread” on the cracker or bread. Another option is to grab a couple pieces from the board and “dip” them into whatever spreads being served. I love fig butter (Trader Joe’s has a tasty, budget-friendly option), honey butter, pepper jelly, mustard, and hummus. You can try all different combinations so that every bite is something new!
Nuts—You can add a little crunch or even a creamy texture to your board with nuts. I enjoy using walnuts, pinenuts, Marcona almonds, and even pumpkin seeds (they’re little, but add great flavor and a hint of saltiness).
Fruits + Vegetables—This is where you can clean out the pantry and still eat like a king! Have some fruits or veggies that are just about past-good? Cut them up for your charcuterie board! They’ll taste delicious when you add all the other ingredients and you won’t be wasting food. My favorites to include are apples, grapes, dates, cucumber, sweet mini peppers, and tomatoes. Like all the other items on the board, though, there really aren’t any rules as to what you can and can’t serve.
Pickled Veggies—Just layering in more flavor here! My favorite go-to’s are pickles (obvs)—I like bread + butter pickles and cornichons (you can read more about them HERE), onions, peppers, and even carrots. I’m going to throw olives into this category as well…since I’m not really sure where else they would belong!
Bread + Crackers—I’m a carb-loving girl, so this is where I like to hang-out. And, clearly, you need a way to eat all the goodies on the charcuterie board—and…to help cut some of the salt and richness that will be happening. You can cut up your favorite baguette (although, I prefer to have the bread be crunch, since most of the other ingredients will be on the soft side) or just open a bag of crackers! I usually have a rice cracker from Trader Joe’s, crostini (small pieces of toasted bread) from The Cheese Shop, and slices of soft baguette or naan.
Place glasses and serving cups on board. You can line them all up along one side or pepper them around the board. These can be filled with spreads, pickled vegetables, or pieces of bread. I prefer to put the wet items in them, so they don’t get on everything else.
Add meats + cheeses to the board. For the softer cheeses, I add a whole piece—for harder cheeses, I’ll add a piece and then a few bits cut off, laid next to or in front of it.
Layer in other ingredients. Whatever you didn’t put in the glasses or serving cups, you’ll layer in around the meats + cheeses. It’s ok for things to touch, be on top of each other, and be in more than one location on the board! I like people to be able to get a taste of whatever’s available from all angles of the board, so I might layer items in two or three places.
Fill in holes. I usually use nuts, tomatoes, or olives for this…but any small ingredients will work!
I know your head is spinning right now…but it doesn’t have to be! Once you have the serving pieces and a good understanding of what ingredients to include on a charcuterie board, you can experiment! I don’t include all these items on every board, but they give you an idea of what you can include. I try to have the ingredients on-hand that are shelf-stable and then if I know I want to make a board, I can just stop at the store quickly and pick up the other items. Also, this is a fantastic way to clean out that pantry and fridge! You’re doing your part to not waste food…and can feel a little fancy while you’re doing it!
Jason and I are trying to eat at home more, so this is something I can put together on a Friday night, when I’m not in the mood to cook, but it still feels special. He LOVES all things charcuterie, so I’m pretty sure I could serve a couple boards a week and he wouldn’t be upset.
I would love to see the boards you create! If you feel adventurous, post a pic on Instagram and tag me in it! You can find me HERE.