Let me start by answering a commonly asked question: what is a charcuterie board? It’s the art of assembling meats and cheeses accompanies by fruit, nuts and crackers for easy and quick hors d’oeuvres.
Cheese and charcuterie boards are an art form that involves much more than throwing some cheeses and crackers on a plate and serving it to guests – it’s more than just a meat and cheese board. While any sane person will still love whatever cheese and crackers you serve, I’m going to help you impress your guests with cheese board ideas and more.
Trying to narrow down my favorite cheeses is like trying to tell you my all-time favorite television show; there are just so many good choices. With television, sometimes I’m in the mood for a comedy, other times a crime show or drama. The same goes for cheeses; sometimes I need some firm Parmesan and sometimes I need some super creamy Brie.
Use my tips to impress your guests with an epic cheese and charcuterie plate at your next gathering. For additional tips pre-order my cookbook, Share + Savor, filled with plenty of appetizer and entertaining boards!
There is such a wide variety of cheeses out there it can be hard to narrow down my choice to just one. My number one rule when putting together a cheese plate is to offer a variety of styles of cheeses. Try finding a combination of aged, firm, soft, crumbly and creamy cheeses and let cheeses sit for 30 minutes at room temperature to let the flavors shine.
If you are serving any hard cheeses, cut them into slices ahead of time to make it easier for guests to eat. This can be into alternating triangles, cubes or slices. Offer a variety of types of milk as well; cow, goat, sheep, they all have different tastes and textures.
That being said – don’t go too crazy, make sure to serve at least one cheese that people are familiar with. This can be a hard cheese like Parmesan (who doesn’t like Parmesan?) or Cheddar. As long as you include one familiar cheese to draw people in then you can go crazy with some unique cheeses. One of my favorite cheeses is Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk, a soft cheese with a washed rind.
I don’t always include blue cheese because I feel it can be very polarizing – some people hate it and others love it. If you are going to just serve one cheese, then skip it, but if you’re offering a selection of a few cheeses then I like to include a blue.
Arrange them on separate areas of the plate and separate the similar textured cheeses to offer a visual variety. A selection of 7 cheeses will be my max – any more and it gets overwhelming. If i have more guests then I will buy backups for those cheeses and fill in the board as needed.
“Charcuterie” isn’t just one of my favorite words to say, an assortment of meats goes a long way to complement a selection of cheeses on a charcuterie plate. Larousse Gastronomique, the culinary encyclopedia, defines charcuterie as, “products based on pork meat or offal…The numerous preparations of charcuterie include cured meats, fresh and smoked sausages, pâté, andoullies, andouillettes, black puddings (blood sausage), boudins blancs, sausagemeat, hams, galantines, pâté en croute, ready cooked dishes and foremeats”.
I like pork rillettes because it is easy to spread on bread and tastes great topped with some cracked black pepper and whole grain mustard. It seems fancy but the rustic pâté is pretty much pulled pork stored in its own fat.
This is another time to try to mix up the textures. I like to pick something hard like salami, saucisson, or Spanish cured chorizo, thinly sliced on the bias; something soft and rich like a pate or rillettes; and dry cured meats like prosciutto (always prosciutto, it is a fan favorite), soppressata, coppa, or speck.
Breads, crackers, chips, crisps – call it what you want, they are all vehicles to get the cheese to your mouth. I like to put out one to two options for people to decide. Bread sticks also add a unique element to the board.
While good sturdy crackers are a classic, my personal favorite conveyance for cheese is grilled French bread. It has that smoky flavor from being tossed on the grill (or a grill pan) for a few minutes. Sliced baguettes dipped in olive oil and broiled are perfect for spreading creamy cheeses.
I love the taste of Pecorino Romano with truffle honey; it reminds me of being in Italy. If you don’t want to shell out for truffle, regular honey does just as well.
Sweet fig jam pairs nicely with creamy Brie and is sold at most grocery stores. If you are serving meats then add some whole grain mustard and cornichons, (tart little French pickles). Grapes or sliced apples add dimension and color to a plate.
Nuts like Marcona almonds are easy to snack on and taste great roasted with olive oil and a bit of salt.
I like to add seasonal garnishes when serving cheese boards.
This is my step by step guide to how to build your perfect charcuterie board.
I am not a sommelier but I have had my fair share of wine. Cheese and wine go together like peanut butter and jelly (really well), so my advice is definitely serve with wine. Sorry I can’t offer more on this front.
While you can serve a cheese board on just about anything, I prefer using marble, wood or slate serving boards to cutting boards. I love this rectangle board from Pottery Barn, and use it frequently. I also recommend Etsy, Target, Crate & Barrel or CB2, World Market or Amazon. A good base is the start to a perfect charcuterie board!
Plan on 2 ounces of each cheese and charcuterie per person when served as an appetizer.
I like wood boards or marble boards best. I’ve even bought big lacquered shelves from a hardware store to use as a background for a catering event where I needed to leave the board behind. It was sealed so it was food safe and cheap!
If I am bringing a charcuterie board to an event or friends house then I often assemble it in advance on my serving board and wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator. I will assemble and refrigerate them up to a day in advance.
While I love shopping small cheese shops like Murray’s Cheese in New York, the cheese sections at grocery stores have significantly in recent years! Whole Foods always has a great selection as well as Trader Joes’s (my favorite for inexpensive choices), Wegman’s, Bristol Farms, Ralph’s and ALDI.
For a visually appealing spread, I plate an odd number of cheeses, using either 3 or 5. Same goes for charcuterie.
Cheese + Charcuterie + vehicle (crackers or sliced baguette) + fruit (fresh or dried) + nuts = a great easy charcuterie board!