If there is one thing I love, it’s charcuterie. Sometimes I literally have it as a meal on its own. I’m crazy about the combination of warm creamy cheeses and cured salty salamis and prosciuttos.
One of my passions in life is entertaining, and an elaborate charcuterie board is one of the traditional “go-to” hors-d’oeuvres I put out while the main event is braising in the oven. Everything about a charcuterie board is perfect. It’s food you share with friends, family, and loved ones while you’re enjoying each others company. It pairs flawlessly with red or white wine. If properly balanced, the components are salty, sweet, creamy, acidic, crunchy, nutty, and pack full of flavour!
To put my love for charcuterie into perspective, I’ll let you know that I’m an avid backcountry camper. I have shoved a wooden board and charcuterie in my backpack, loaded it onto a canoe, paddled to a secluded island in Backcountry Kejimkujik, and shared it with my husband. I’ve also pulled it up the side of a small mountain in Iceland while we were camping with my little sister. It’s always worth the effort!
When you’re putting together a charcuterie board, there aren’t a ton of “hard rules”. It’s a little subjective because people have different tastes and preferences (i.e: if your entire family hates the taste of blue cheese, it’s probably not ideal to throw a block of Stilton on your board). But, there are a few rough guidelines to help guarantee you appeal to the masses and give everyone a little bit of that flavour they’re craving.
First, let’s start with the cheese! You want to ensure your guests have an assortment of tastes and textures at their disposal. I find the best boards usually offer a variety of hard and soft cheeses, as well as cheese that ranges from mild to sharp in taste. I usually try to include a soft cheese, a hard rind cheese, an aged cheese, a blue cheese, and a couple of fun flavoured cheeses (i.e: smoked). Examples are below:
Soft Cheese: Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella, Camembert, Brie, Burrata
Aged Cheese: Old Aged Cheddar, Gruyere
Hard Cheese: Parmigiano Reggiano, Gouda
Blue Cheese: Silton, Gorgonzola, Roquefort
Flavoured Cheeses: Truffle Cheddar, Cranberry Goat Cheese, Herb & Garlic Boursin
An important tip for cheese: It’s best at room temperature. Make sure you take it out of the fridge an hour before you will be assembling your board! No one wants to struggle with a hard block of cheddar.
The Meat (AKA: The Charcuterie!)
Just like picking your cheese options, it’s important to give a variety with your meat. I always try to incorporate a combination of spicy, garlicky, flavoured, and plain salamis and prosciutto on my boards. Everyone has different personal preferences. I find with my particular group of friends, Chorizo always goes first, followed closely by salami with coarsely grated pepper!
I love using meat I have to cut myself. I find it’s usually higher quality and gives you more control over size and thickness. That being said, I usually use a combination of uncut meat and pre-cut meat.
Add Some Sweetness:
Meat and cheese boards are savoury. They are the definition of umami. To try and balance it out, I always add a little sweetness to the dish! Include some local honey, a healthy serving of jam, some fresh cut figs, some wine grapes, or some peach and pear slices. They help neutralize the heavy salt flavour in the cured meats and cheese.
A tip: Fresh honeycomb adds a beautiful presentation to your board. Everyone eats with their eyes first, so if you can find some and you have space, it’s fun to include!
Add some Tartness:
Preserves are incredible on a charcuterie board. They add a punch of flavour and acidity, which helps cleanse the pallet a little and cuts through all the creaminess of the cheese. Pickled olives, pickled garlic, or pickled jalapenos are always amazing compliments to your primary ingredients.
I try to include a few options for carbs as well! As most people will layer, I like to use an assortment of fruit and seed filled crackers and fresh Italian bread. If I already have a busy board, I tend to include those in bowls on the side.
To finish off the board, I will typically include a variety of condiments for layering! Red pepper jelly, coarse dijon mustard, and savory thyme jams are always popular!
Serve your charcuterie board garnished with greens like fresh arugula, nuts (such as walnuts, almonds, or cashews), and a variety of cheese knives!