Charcuterie platters provide a smorgasbord of taste, texture and beauty to any get-together and allow guests to sample remarkable flavor combinations. The great thing about charcuterie boards is that you can’t mess them up! You don’t need to be a food stylist to create a beautiful board. In case you need some guidance, we put together some tips and tricks and help you put together a board for you and your taste “buds”.
Select a variety of cheeses with different textures, flavors, and colors in a variety of shapes (blocks, wedges, wheels, etc.). Different textured cheese would include hard cheeses such as Parmesan; aged cheese (in between hard and soft) such as cheddar and Swiss; and soft, spreadable cheeses like brie and goat.
Consider the different milks that the cheeses are made from, too. Goat and sheep’s milk cheeses taste different than cow’s milk.
Flavor profiles include tangy goat cheeses, pungent blue cheeses, mild Brie or Swiss. Mix and match the textures and flavors to create a variety for the board.
Cut cheeses into a variety of shapes: sticks, slices, cubes, or wedges. Don’t cut them all the same way – mix it up! Try to avoid setting out whole blocks, wedges, or rounds of cheese and expect guests to cut from them. We suggest to either get the block started for them by cutting about half of it into serving pieces or cut the whole thing up. Go the extra distance to make it easy for your guests to enjoy the board!
Crackers and Bread
Select a variety of crackers and sliced baguette to use. Look for texture in the crackers (whole grain with nuts and dried fruit) but keep the flavor profiles mild so as not to compete with the flavors of the cheeses and meats.
For the meats, consider their shapes as well and aim for a variety here too. Don’t just lay out sliced salami in a row on the board. Instead, try folding slices of salami in half or quarters; wind thinly sliced prosciutto into “roses”; or create a salami “cone” by taking a round of thinly sliced salami and cutting a slit from the center of the slice to the outside edge, then twist the cut ends to create a cone shape. “Shingling” meats can create pretty designs too. Consider shingled slices around a small bowl of mustard or honey.
Arranging the Board
First things first, you will want to select an interesting board such as large vintage platters, piece of wood, piece of slate or marble, silver tray, etc. Unique boards enhance the overall appearance of the display. If the surface is untreated (such as a raw piece of wood), protect it and keep the food safe to eat by laying out sheets of natural (brown) parchment paper.
Select a few small serving dishes for various items – small jars, bowls, tins, etc. can hold jams, chutneys, nuts, pickles, olives, bread sticks (these are great for adding height to the board!). Mix and match materials – they don’t have to be the same (and look better when they’re not).
Have small spoons for the spreads, cheese knives for the cheeses, toothpicks, forks, and/or small tongs for picking things up. It’s also nice to have tags for identifying the cheeses and meats on the board.
Start putting the board together by placing the bowls of spreads or mustard on the surface, followed by the cheeses – these two elements take up the most physical space and should go on first to ensure a good fit. After that, just start placing the other items all around, as if you were arranging a bouquet of flowers or painting a portrait. There’s no “right” way to do it but you want the board to look abundant. Tuck slices of bread or prosciutto “roses” in random places, place a pile of nuts or dried fruit here or there, add a sprig of rosemary for a fresh element.
The size of your board and your guest list will determine how much of all the items you’ll need. But for variety and impact, plan on at minimum two types of cheeses, two types of meats, three fillers, two types of crackers/bread.
Select a variety of “fillers” that fill small spaces or gaps in your board. Some examples of fillers can be anything such as cured olives, toasted whole nuts, pickled peppers, cucumbers, grapes, raspberries, figs, cherry tomatoes, dried cranberries, dried apricots, small chunks of dark chocolate, and sprigs of fresh herbs such as rosemary and fresh bay leaves. Cheese knives are perfect to add as well to fill spots near your cheeses and spreads.
When to Assemble
Small and medium-sized charcuterie boards can be put together hours ahead of time. Once it’s assembled, wrap the whole board in cellophane and refrigerate. Set it out 30 minutes before your guests arrive to allow the cheese to reach room temperature. If you’re putting together a large board that might be delicate to move, start building your charcuterie board 30-60 minutes before your guests arrive.