A charcuterie board is a selection of cured or smoked meats, often served alongside various cheeses and other accompaniments as an appetizer. Charcuterie and cheese boards are great for serving at picnics and parties or even as a creative date night idea. By arranging a simple selection of cheese, meat, fruit, spreads, and toasted crostini, you can create many delicious flavor pairings.
Planning Your Charcuterie Board
Preparing a fancy charcuterie board may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be if you keep in mind a few simple things. First – know your guests: make sure to serve at least one or two types of cheese that people are familiar with (hint: not everyone loves tangy bleu cheese). Next – make sure to be varied in your choices: that means a variety of tastes, textures, saltiness, creaminess, smokiness, etc.
If you’re unsure where to find some of these items, try looking in the deli section of your grocery store or with the prepared foods. Some stores even have pre-packaged meat and cheese boards available.
Tip – cheese is best served room temperature. Allow your cheese to sit out at least 30 minutes prior to serving. You may want to pre-slice harder cheeses when arranging your display, while leaving softer cheeses in wedges or cylinders. This also helps add some aesthetic interest to your arrangement.
A general rule of thumb when choosing meat and cheese pairings is to make sure the flavors complement one another. One flavor should not overpower another, meaning you should be able to distinguish the individual elements. Try pairing mild cheeses with light or delicate flavors, while pairing strong, flavorful cheeses with equally bold spreads or accompaniments.
Above all, have fun! These ideas are just guidelines—feel free to add your own favorites or mix and match seemingly strange combinations. You may be surprised which items taste great together.
Martin’s Bread & Rolls:
Toasted crostini made from assorted Martin’s bread is the perfect vehicle for your cheese and charcuterie and helps adds a nice crunchy textural contrast. Using a few different types of rolls and bread will give you even more flavor options; try using Hoagie Rolls, Party or Dinner Rolls, Butter Bread, and Whole Wheat Potato Bread, all sliced and toasted. You can also use a variety of techniques for your crostini—some toasted or grilled with butter, others drizzled with olive oil and topped with chopped herbs like dill, garlic, or rosemary.
The key is to include cheeses that vary in terms of age and firmness, flavor, texture, and/or type of milk. For example, you may want to choose one cheese from each category: soft, semi-soft, firm, hard, blue, and fresh cheese. Have some cheeses that are crumbly, others that are sliced, and one or two that are spreadable. Try including at least one cheese of each milk type: cow, goat, and sheep. The amount of cheese you serve depends, of course, on your number of guests, but aim for around 1 ounce of each type of cheese per person.
Here are some various types of cheese to choose from:
- Cream Cheese is great for spreading on toast; top with herbs, hot pepper jelly, salmon, or fresh fruit for some delicious pairing options.
- Chèvre, or goat cheese, is a soft, fresh cheese that can be crumbled or spread on crackers or toasted bread. It generally has a slight tang to it and pairs well with fruity spreads like fig jam.
- Brie is a soft-ripened cheese with a creamy texture and a fairly mild flavor; pair with a delicate honey, black forest ham, or sweet or savory jams such as fig or berry.
- Havarti is a semi-soft cheese with a creamy texture and slightly buttery taste; it pairs well with herbs or fruit.
- Cheddar is a semi-hard cheese that is usually a fan favorite and can vary from mild to sharp depending on the age; pair with apple butter or sliced salami.
- Gouda can be semi-soft or hard, depending on how long it’s aged, and can also be found smoked; try serving with sliced pears or orange marmalade.
- Gruyère is a hard, Swiss-style cheese that is sweet and slightly salty, often with a subtle nutty or earthy flavor; try paired with toasted almonds or fruit mostarda.
- Manchego is a Spanish sheep’s milk cheese with a buttery, nutty flavor, and comes in a variety of ages; pair with dry-cured ham or quince paste.
- Parmigiano-Reggiano is a hard, often crumbly, Italian cheese with a salty, nutty flavor; it pairs well with prosciutto or fruit jams.
- Bleu Cheeses like Gorgonzola and Roquefort are generally sweet and nutty with a very strong flavor; pair with equally assertive flavors like dried fruit, candied walnuts, and pears.
Try including different types of meat with a variety of textures such as hard salami, thin-sliced dry cured meats, regular deli-sliced meats, and smoked salmon or lox. Many people also like to include a pate or other spreadable option. Just make sure to include a variety of flavor profiles and saltiness levels that will complement the cheeses you choose.
Choose from your favorite of the below:
- Smoked salmon
Cheese and fruit were basically made for each other – something about the combination of salty with sweet allows the two to complement each other perfectly. Try pairing some of the below fruits, jams, and sweet spreads with various cheeses to find your new favorite combo.
- Fig Jam
- Strawberry Jam
- Peach Jam or Orange Marmalade
- Apple or Pear Slices
- Quince Paste
- Dried Fruit (cherries, apricots)
As always, variety is key—adding some tart olives or tangy mustard to your favorite meat or cheese can kick the flavor up a notch, while toppings like cornichons or almonds will add a pop of color and a nice crunch.
- Assorted Olives (Black, Green, Kalamata)
- Gherkins or Cornichons
- Walnuts or Almonds
- Whole Grain Mustard
- Hot Pepper Jelly/ Sweet Jalapeno Jam
- Tomato Jam
- Olive Spread
- Bacon Jam
- Herb Butter
It can be fun to serve your charcuterie assortment on a nice wooden cheeseboard. Arrange the individual items in a sort of collage, with the various meats, cheeses, and accompaniments scattered throughout. You can also use a chalkboard or slate to arrange your items – and even write the names of the various items on the board itself. Also be sure to have serving utensils and cheese spreaders for each separate item to avoid mixing flavors.
Here are some creative crostini recipes to try at your next charcuterie party!
- Prosciutto, Brie, & Apple Butter Crostini
- Fruit, Goat Cheese, & Pecan Crostini
- Prosciutto, Goat Cheese, & Fig Jam Crostini
Watch this slideshow for more charcuterie board inspiration!
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