The word charcuterie is a term that summons visions of thoughtfully-plated fare and high-end gatherings, much like a plate of hors d'oeuvres or a dainty amuse-bouche. From the French for “cooked meat”, it’s true that sausages, salamis, and sliced meats do take center stage, but it’s their accouterments that truly elevate a simple plate of carnivore-centric snacks into a charcuterie board.
So, beyond meat, what makes a “perfect” charcuterie assortment? Here are a few tips and tricks to guide you on your culinary path to deliciousness:
Start with plating ideas: Even if your ingredients are divine and your flavors perfectly balanced, you’ll need to make sure your charcuterie is accessible and adequate for your guests. Creating a plate to enjoy with a loved one over a favorite television show is a very different experience than feeding a group at a party, for example. Don’t be afraid to do some research and “steal” ideas from cookbooks and websites that look appetizing – mixing and matching is encouraged. Our favorite plating idea is to serve all your charcuterie ingredients on a large wooden cutting board for an easy and rustic presentation.
- Offer a mix of fresh tastes and earthy, savory flavors: Popular charcuterie spreads balance by accompanying meat with a variety of flavorful cheeses, crusty slices of bread, savory condiments, and sweet elements like fresh or dried fruit, dark chocolates, and honeycomb. You can go as exotic or familiar as you like, as there are no hard and fast rules beyond the traditional inclusion of meat. Even then, vegetarian proteins can be swapped out if need be – a charcuterie spread has become more of an artistic food expression and less a structured dish in modern-day affairs.
- Include enough foods that everyone at the party can have a small assorted plate: Some guests will bypass the meat and head straight for the cheese, while others may load up on olives and pickles. Generally, planning to have each guest take at least one assorted plate is a good move – it “comes out in the wash” if one guest or another takes more of an item. Ultimately, offering variety and a lot of each item is key to making sure you don’t run out of what your guests love.
- Consider temperature and setting: An indoor gathering with air conditioning or heating will be considerably kinder to a charcuterie board than an outdoor one without. If the elements (e.g., hungry birds or insects) may threaten your beautifully-arranged plating, a wire covering or similar enclosure will ensure food is for human guests only. If the plate will be somewhere warm or in the sun, an ice pack tucked in a linen napkin beneath the fresh fruit will elevate it aesthetically while keeping it refreshingly cool; likewise with cheese or chocolate.
- Bear in mind your guests’ culinary restrictions: Vegetarians or vegans will appreciate your thoughtfulness as you plan out your board. If you include sliced vegetables or non-meat items, do so on the opposite side of the charcuterie plate or board where they won’t touch the meat. These can be raw, fresh vegetables or pickled and marinated varieties, such as Italian giardiniera. Olives and pickles make an excellent omnivore inclusion to your spread.
A note for hosts: In the case of allergies, your guests may need to know the exact ingredients of spreads or other condiments. Keep the jars or bottles tucked somewhere out of sight but accessible; grateful attendees may also want to know your preferred brand(s) so they can purchase them on their own after the event.
- Make it easy to retrieve food from the plate: This may seem like a straightforward step, but many gathering hosts worry so much about the food that they forget the serving tools. Disposable items like elongated toothpicks are excellent for individually selecting small items like fruit pieces or olives, while small tongs keep meat and cheese selection tidy and efficient. Be sure to include non-disposable spoons in each condiment or sauce container to prevent accidental mixing or unintended spoon thievery.
- Portion unfamiliar or exotic items: Even if it’s not your first charcuterie board rodeo, it may be a delightful surprise to a guest or two. That said, being confronted with an unfamiliar food or condiment can cause anxiety in a high-end gathering, so don’t be afraid to offer a bit of assistance. Portion out interesting inclusions like a tasty honeycomb snack. This interesting yet delicious treat might be familiar if you put honeycomb in tea, but it also makes a unique addition to a charcuterie board. If you are including unique food items like such, consider small signs with pairing ideas to help guests enjoy the edible experience from start to finish.
A note for hosts: If you notice someone looking confused or hesitating as they examine the assortment, you can help by leading the way. Load up your own charcuterie sampling plate and talk about your favorites as you do; this way, they can discreetly follow suit. It will take the pressure off of them and ensure they feel both welcome and well-fed.
Savory, sweet, rich, and unforgettable, your charcuterie board should be like your event: an occasion for all to enjoy. Take risks, add a few accents and condiments you might not otherwise snack on to try, and create a perfect masterpiece that’s all you – your guests will reap the delicious benefits.
“How to Make a Charcuterie Plate.” Dartagnan.com, (no publish date), https://www.dartagnan.com/how-to-make-a-charcuterie-plate.html. Accessed August 27, 2019.
“The brief history lesson on Charcuterie.” Charcuterie Style.com, (no publish date), https://www.charcuteriestyle.com/history-of-charcuterie. Accessed August 27, 2019.
Meier, Jennifer. “Essential Tips for Pairing Cheese and Honey.” The Spruce Eats.com, June 7, 2019, https://www.thespruceeats.com/pairing-cheese-and-honey-the-perfect-contrast-591303. Accessed August 27, 2019.