Spotlight Series: All About Charcuterie (The Ultimate Guide - Everything You Need To Know And More)
What is charcuterie and what’s with all the hype?
Believe it or not, charcuterie has been around for a long time—the 15th century, in fact. The term itself is French and once just referred to the art of preparing meats for preservation. These days, those preserved meats and their entire arrangement is what people know as charcuterie. If charcuterie has been around so long, why the sudden explosion of meat and cheese boards everywhere you look?
Charcuterie is the best of all worlds: an invitation to creativity that can be adapted to any number of people, any season or occasion. While traditional charcuterie boards were served before the meal, as an elegant appetizer, they also stand as casual meals and small bites with drinks like wine or cocktails. Charcuterie is more than just a pretty picture on your Instagram feed; it’s a great way to bring together all of your favorite gourmet flavors in one stunning, yet easy to assemble, presentation.
The beauty of charcuterie is in its simplicity. Start with a couple serving boards, dishes and plates. Choose a selection of thinly sliced cured meats like ham, sausage and salumi. Next, include some soft cheeses (if you like)—Brie, blue cheese, fresh mozzarella, goat cheese, etc.) Set it off with gourmet garnishes like olives, pickled peppers, crackers and spreads. For the finish, add color with fresh herbs, dried fruit and nuts. Arrange items in a natural way allowing for a random order.
Our Ultimate Charcuterie Guide is ready to answer all of your charcuterie and charcuterie board questions.
What Is Charcuterie?
Charcuterie is the culinary art of preparing meat products and their artful presentation. One that prepares these meats is called a charcutier. A French word with ancient origins, charcuterie was a way to safely preserve meat products as a necessity—long before the advent of modern refrigeration. The salt, seasonings and curing methods used to preserve the meats impart distinct and desirable flavors and textures. Examples of these prepared meat products are salami, terrine, pate, confit, bacon, ham, sausage and galantine. What was once a more practical approach to enjoying (mostly) pork products has become something of an upscale dining and entertaining experience.
What Is A Charcuterie Board?
A charcuterie board is a careful selection of preserved meats, sometimes cheeses and other gourmet garnishes like pickled vegetables, dried fruits, nuts, mustards and crispy toasts that come together on a serving board, several plates or a platter. Charcuterie boards are also known as meat and cheese boards, grazing boards and snack boards. While cured meats are traditionally the feature here, the perfect charcuterie board boasts a beautiful contrast of colors, flavors and textures that pair perfectly. A traditional charcuterie board is served as an appetizer or antipasto before the meal, but these days, charcuterie often stands in as small bites or a casual meal. There are many iterations that have come from the charcuterie board concept to include cheese boards, grazing boards and snack boards… and even something called a butter board.
The Origin Of Charcuterie And Its Brief History
Charcuterie is the ancient practice of preparing meats to preserve them. Long before modern methods of preservation like refrigeration, curing meats by means of salting and air-drying was a matter of practicality. The art of preparing meats this way dates back to the 15th century, perhaps longer. In France, this culinary endeavor was honed and perfected by experimenting with different curing styles and times, different seasonings and so on. These preservation processes created meats that could safely be eaten for months and months after they were prepared. Traditionally, these preserved meats were made up mostly of pork, but these days, charcuterie is made with other meats like beef, turkey and duck.
How To Perfectly Portion And Shop For Your Charcuterie Board So You’re Not Overspending
If an Appetizer:
- For meats: 2 to 3 oz. per person
- For cheeses: 2 to 3 oz. per person
- For crackers or bread: 4 to 6 oz. per person
- For vegetables: 4 to 8 oz. per person
- For fruit or nuts: 2 to 3 tablespoons per person
- Sweets and other extras: use discretion
If a Main Course:
- For meats: 6 to 7 oz. per person
- For cheeses: 6 to 7 oz. per person
- For crackers or bread: 8 to 9 oz. per person
- For vegetables: 8 to 9 oz. per person
- For fruit or nuts: 4 to 6 tablespoons per person
- Sweets and other extras: use discretion
The Best Ingredients For A Charcuterie Board (A Quick Roundup)
Cheeses: Blue cheeses, like Gorgonzola and Stilton; soft cheeses such as Brie and Camembert; aged hard cheeses like Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano-Reggiano; goat cheeses; and a vast number of semi-firm cheeses like Cheddar, Asiago, Havarti and Gouda.
Bread And Crackers: Focaccia toasts; gourmet crackers; pita bread and sliced bakery breads like Sourdough, Italian and French.
Fruit And Nuts: Fresh fruits: Seasonal finds along with canteloupe, honeydew, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cherries, apples, figs and pears. Dried fruits: Apricots, dates, figs, apples, pears, etc. Nuts: Almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pistachios, etc.
The Best Meats For A Charcuterie Board
The heart of any good charcuterie board is variety, so keep that in mind when selecting cured meats for your board—not only a variety of flavors, but colors and textures too. A charcuterie board is also a great opportunity to try something new, so think outside of your standard deli cold cuts.
- Genoa Salami: Made with pork or a combination of pork and beef, this dry air-cured favorite is zesty, savory and slightly sweet. Unlike hard salami, Italian-style salami is tender and easy to roll or overlap for a more refined presentation.
- Sopressata: This traditional Italian salumi is an exquisitely marbled pork sausage that is studded with black peppercorns, garlic and spices. Sopressata is as beautiful to look at as it is delicious. Plus, it generally comes in two varieties—sweet or hot.
- Prosciutto: This cured, thin sliced pork is one of the most popular charcuterie board features. With an irresistibly delicate texture and salty, savory flavor, prosciutto is a must-have on your charcuterie board. Serve it wrapped around slices of fresh fruit like cantaloupe or crispy Grissini breadsticks.
- Calabrese Sausage: Spice up your charcuterie board with some Southern Italian flair. Seasoned with chilies, black pepper and garlic, this air-cured pork sausage is supple and snappy in texture with a fiery flavor that pairs perfectly with creamy cheeses to balance its spice and equally bold red wines.
- Mortadella: There is truly something special about this Italian charcuterie. When it comes to presentation, Mortadella is pink and speckled with white bits of fat and sometimes pistachios. Its texture is soft, almost creamy, and its flavor is mild and subtly seasoned.
- Pepperoni or Chorizo: You can’t go wrong with this classic. More than just a pizza topping, pepperoni is an iconic Italian sausage ready to spice up your charcuterie and cheese boards. Its reddish hue and bold flavor make it a lively addition. Chorizo is another peppery, spicy sausage, but with Spanish roots.
- Capicola: Similar to prosciutto, this iconic Italian charcuterie boasts a delicately savory flavor with a tender texture and a reddish-pink color. It pairs perfectly with soft Italian cheeses, blue cheeses and crispy gourmet toasts.
The Best Cheeses For A Charcuterie Board
Like cured meats, the best cheeses for a charcuterie board are all about variety. For the perfect charcuterie board, go for a mix of hard, crumbly, soft, bold, mild and even spicy. Take your charcuterie board to the next level with unique, high-quality cheeses and big, bold flavors. It’s a great time to discover a new favorite. Cheeses are categorized by style with names that describe their texture. A cheese’s texture comes from how it is made, with what it is made and how long it is aged. Here’s a little inspiration by category. These are some of our favorite cheeses for entertaining.
Blue Cheese: Don’t forget the blues! These cheeses are marvels of flavor and appearance. Their striking blue veins and tangy, bright flavors make them a great choice for charcuterie boards and cheese plates. Start with some of the most well-known blue cheeses like Italian Gorgonzola, pleasantly pungent French Roquefort and English Blue Stilton. Heighten the flavors and presentation with a drizzle of Balsamic Cheese Glaze or honey. For a festive blue cheese, try the cranberry-studded Wesleydale.
Soft Cheese: When it comes to soft cheeses for serving, Brie is at the top of our list. Its rich, decadent flavor is a no-brainer for entertaining. Plus, it pairs well with crackers and gourmet toasts. You can really up the wow factor here with a Baked Brie recipe. Don’t be afraid to include a stinky cheese like Camembert. This earthy, bloomy rind cheese offers a little more complexity than your classic Brie. Mozzarella is easy-to-love with its mild, creamy presence, but have you ever tried Burrata? Creamier with a mildly sweet and milky flavor, Burrata is an excellent choice for an impressive charcuterie spread.
Semi-Firm Cheese: These cheeses are mostly dense and supple, yet come in a wide variety of flavors and textures. Smoked Gouda is a great addition to your charcuterie board. Its pleasing buttery, smoky flavor and creamy bite pair perfectly with cured meats. No charcuterie and cheese board is complete with a Cheddar or two. There are some superior aged varieties out there that take on an incredible caramel flavor. Spice things up with Pepperjack or a Horseradish Cheddar. For a creamy lovable cheese that is sure to please every palate, Havarti is a must-have.
Hard Cheese: Aged to perfection, hard cheeses are known for their dense, crumbly textures and refined nutty, sharp flavors. You can’t go wrong with Italy’s lineup of prized hard cheeses: Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Granino cheeses. Manchego is a hard Spanish cheese that boasts a tangy, sharp and slightly sweet flavor that really lights up charcuterie boards. It pairs up well with the Spanish dry-cured sausage, Chorizo.
Goat Cheese: This category of cheeses boasts a wide range of flavors and textures—from mild and sweet to grassy and rich. French Chèvre is a prized goat cheese known for its soft, spreadable texture and gourmet presentation, as this cheese comes in many varieties (some rolled in herbs or dried peppers). Aged goat cheeses offer caramelly, sweet flavors that really rock a charcuterie board.
The Best Bread And Crackers For A Charcuterie Board
Starches like crispy Grissini Breadsticks, Focaccia Toasts, bakery breads and crackers are essential for the perfect charcuterie board, especially when your offerings include soft cheeses, mustards and fruit spreads. While there is no right or wrong here, we suggest including a couple of options to keep things interesting. The typical starches are salty, crunchy and sometimes toasty, making them a great foundation to the myriad of bold, bright flavors on your charcuterie board. Consider a nut-based cracker option for your gluten-free friends.
The Best Fruit And Nuts For A Charcuterie Board
Fruits and nuts add color, interesting textures, fresh flair and flavor to your charcuterie boards. When available and in season, fresh fruits are an easy way to brighten up the deep salts, smoky, savory flavors of a meat and cheese board. Melons like cantaloupe and honeydew, as well as berries like raspberries and blueberries, add a new dimension. Figs, apples, grapes, pears and cherries are other popular fresh fruit options ready to elevate your cured meats and cheeses. No fresh fruit available? You can still sweeten your charcuterie offerings with dried fruits like crisp apple chips, dates and chewy dried apricots. Like fruit, nuts are an easy way to add some dimension to your savory snack offerings: salty, smoky, spicy, aromatic and sometimes sweet. Visually speaking, they are also a great medium for filling up spaces on your board. We like pistachios, almonds, peanuts, cashews and more.
The Best Vegetables For A Charcuterie Board
Both fresh and pickled veggies are a wonderful way to enhance your charcuterie creations. Fresh vegetables (or crudité) are a great addition to summertime charcuterie boards, as they offer a crisp, clean flavor that makes for the perfect palate cleanser. Some ideas for fresh cut vegetables are celery, carrots, peppers, cucumbers, radishes, etc. Pickled and brined vegetables come with their own tasty palette of striking flavors: from the tangy, bright flavors of cornichons (pickles) to the zesty vinegary bite of pepperoncini peppers to the smoky, sweetness of marinated red peppers. Don’t forget the olives! While olives are technically considered a fruit, they fall into this category of pickled and brined goodies that add some tangy, bright, pleasantly bitter flavors to your charcuterie board of cured meats and specialty cheeses.
The Best Sweets For A Charcuterie Board
Level up your charcuterie board with a few sweets. Dark chocolate (chocolate truffles), cocoa dusted almonds and dried or fresh fruits are a great way to sweeten up your charcuterie offerings. Pepper jelly, jam or fruit spreads are an elegant way to add some sweetness to your charcuterie board. Try chocolate or yogurt-covered raisins for a special treat. Depending on the occasion, you may want to include festive and seasonal goodies such as candy corn, jelly beans and nougats.
The Best Extras For A Charcuterie Board
There are so many extras that you can include to enhance your charcuterie board experience. Opt for items that add color, flavor and texture to your selection of cured meats and cheeses. Sprigs of fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme are a super simple way to add a pop of color to your board. Fruit spreads, mustards, Balsamic Glaze, relish, olive tapenade and honey can all add another flavor profile or two to your charcuterie palette.
How To Assemble A Charcuterie Board (And Items You Need To Serve It)
Items You Need To Serve
When it comes to the foundation of your charcuterie presentation, choose a variety of plates, bowls, wooden slabs and slate in different sizes, shapes and material. The amount of boards that is necessary depends on how big of a spread you are preparing. Be sure to gather some small jars and bowls for spreads, mustards, bruschetta and dips. Include spoons and spreading knives for serving.
How To Build
Foundation first: Start by gathering a collection of large cutting boards, marble slabs, slate pieces, ceramic bowls and dishes.
Featured meats and cheeses: Next, arrange meats and cheeses to be the focus of your presentation. Begin with the largest items first. Space them out to leave room for garnishes.
Colorful complements: Follow up with olives, pickled vegetables and starches. Keep in mind colors and textures for an artful arrangement.
Give it some height: Place spreads and dips alongside in bowls and jars for varied heights. Be sure to include spoons and spreading knives for serving.
Fill in the gaps: Finish your charcuterie board presentation by filling in the empty spaces with handfuls of nuts, fresh herbs and fresh fruits like grapes and berries.
Arrangement Tips And Ideas
- Follow the 3333 rule. To make sure your board is complete, this rule of thumb helps you create a well-balanced and visually appealing board - 3 meats, 3 cheeses, 3 starches, and 3 sweets. The bigger the board, the more you can add!
- Let’s get visual. If serving and entertaining is an art, charcuterie is the medium. Its colorful, inviting appearance is a large part of what makes charcuterie such a beloved pastime. To do this, be sure items are easy to spot with enough space. Also, keep colors and textures varied so that nothing similar is side by side.
- Everyone loves a theme! Some of our favorite charcuterie boards are focused on a regional cuisine such as spicy Southern Italian, Spanish or French.
- Mix it up. A great charcuterie board includes a vast array of colors, textures and flavors: spicy cured meats, mild cheeses, tart olives, tangy pickles, crisp toasts, salty nuts… you get the idea. Not only does a variety keep things interesting, but it also gives your guests options and caters to many different palates.
- Shape and roll your meat. For softer, thin-sliced meats, roll or shape them. Not only is this eye-catching, but it helps to utilize your space more efficiently.
- Accessibility is key. Make sure items are sliced, ready to scoop and accessible. Sometimes this is easier to see once you build your charcuterie board. Spend a few minutes looking over your presentation to see where you might need a serving spoon or a tiny fork.
- Fill in the gaps. Use nuts, fresh herbs and loose fruits like grapes or berries to fill in the odd spaces left between meats, cheeses and garnishes.
How Do I Pronounce Charcuterie?
Charcuterie is pronounced shar-KOO-tuh-REE.
What Does Charcuterie Mean Literally?
Charcuterie is a French term that refers to “cooked meats”—a way of curing or preserving meats long before the advent of refrigeration. These preserved meats are typically pork products (or pork and beef blends) that were seasoned and salted to safely preserve them. This culinary art is practiced by a fancy pork butches who is called a charcutier.
What Is The Point Of A Charcuterie Board? Why Are They So Popular?
Charcuterie boards are so popular for a number of reasons, or maybe all of them. To start, charcuterie includes so many different varieties of meats along with many combinations of charcuterie board additions: specialty cheeses, vegetables, spreads, crackers, olives and more. There is literally something for everyone. Moreover, charcuterie doesn’t just taste good, it looks good too. The stunning combination of colors and textures makes charcuterie very photogenic and popular on image-centric social media. The presentation has a natural “thrown together” look. That is another reason why it is so popular: charcuterie is an effortless way to entertain. Simply slice, arrange and serve. Charcuterie boards are adaptable to taste, season and number of people. Whether you’re hosting a large holiday get-together or a more intimate gathering, charcuterie is the perfect fit.
What Ingredients Should I Avoid Putting On A Charcuterie Board?
Just as there are many DO’s to a charcuterie board, there are also some DONT’s. Avoid super stinky cheeses and pungent foods that will overtake the board. Likewise, avoid fruits and vegetables that will quickly brown. When entertaining a crowd, we recommend staying away from super spicy foods and staying aware of food allergens and sensitivities. Try to keep things evenly portioned, so you don’t stand the chance of running out of one item more quickly than another.
Can I Make Charcuterie The Night Before?
Yes, you can assemble the meats and cheeses of a charcuterie board up to 24 hours in advance, as long as the board is wrapped tightly and refrigerated. We recommend waiting to add crackers, starches and nuts until you are ready to serve so that they do not become soggy. Certain fresh fruits and vegetables may be best served freshly cut as well.
How Long Should A Charcuterie Board Sit Out Before Serving?
How long a charcuterie board can safely sit out depends on several factors: indoor/outdoor, items on your board and the temperature. To be safe, we recommend a charcuterie board be left out for no longer than 2 hours at room temperature. If the temperature is above 90˚F, only one hour is recommended.
Is a Charcuterie Board A Full Meal?
Traditionally, charcuterie was to be served before the meal as antipasti, but these days, well-rounded charcuterie boards are often served as grazing boards that can be stand-ins for light meals. When you think of it, a great well-rounded charcuterie board includes meats, cheeses, veggies, sweets and starches.
Can I Make A Charcuterie Board On A Budget?
Yes, you can create a stunning charcuterie board on a budget. Check out local sales, to start. Decide on the best place to shop for your meats and cheeses. Be sure to scope out your own pantry for items you may already have that will help you to create a charcuterie board. You can also go heavier on the cheaper extras like pickled vegetables, breads and fresh fruits.
I Have Charcuterie Leftovers, What Do I Do With Them?
There are so many ways to use leftovers from your charcuterie boards. Here are just a few:
- Sandwiches: Fill buns, breads and top crackers with the meats, cheeses, garnishes and spreads from leftover charcuterie boards.
- Breakfast: Eggs are an excellent foundation for some of those meats, cheeses, spreads and dips. Create omelets, fried eggs and frittata dishes.
- Baked Pasta: Use your charcuterie leftovers to whip up a loaded mac ‘n cheese or other cheesy baked pasta.
- Salads and Pasta Salads: Chop up those leftover meats, cheeses, pickles, olives and more to invent a colorful cold pasta salad or a leafy green salad. Leftover spreads and dips might make tasty dressings!
Antipasto Vs Charcuterie - What Is The Difference?
Antipasti (plural of antipasto) is an Italian term meaning “before the meal.” This is a traditional Italian starter course, or appetizer course. Charcuterie, on the other hand, is a French term that refers to the art of preparing meats to preserve them. Charcuterie has evolved to mean more than just cured meats, but the whole appetizer-like course of preserved meats, cheeses, pickled veggies and more. While both feature some of the same items, charcuterie is more focused on the selection of cured meats. Antipasti refers to a wider array of ingredients and bites like olives, cheeses, bruschetta, tapenades, pickled garlic and small preparations. To be true to tradition, antipasti should always be served at room temperature.
Charcuterie Vs Meat And Cheese Board - What Is The Difference?
There is not much of a difference between charcuterie and meat and cheese boards. In recent years, these two concepts have evolved to mean mostly the same thing: a gathering of cured meats, specialty cheeses and all the complementary garnishes (fruits, nuts, olives, pickled peppers, bruschetta, etc.). Still, if we’re talking about traditional charcuterie, it is centered around dry sausages and air-cured meats like Prosciutto, Genoa Salami, Capicola, Sopressata and Mortadella. Charcuterie boards may or may not include cheeses and other garnishes. Meat and cheese boards focus on both cured meats and specialty cheeses.
Crudite Vs Charcuterie - What Is The Difference?
A charcuterie board is focused on cured meats accompanied by an array of complementary cheeses, olives, vegetables, crackers, etc. On the other hand, crudités is an appetizer platter of raw vegetables like carrots, celery and peppers that are presented with simple dips.
Smorgasbord Vs Charcuterie - What Is The Difference?
A charcuterie board is more like an appetizer of before-the-meal bites with a focus on dry sausages and air-cured meats. These meats can be accompanied by cheeses, crackers, spreads and pickled vegetables. A smorgasbord is a traditional Swedish custom of entertaining guests with an abundance of both fresh and prepared dishes like salad, relishes, fish, cheeses and more. You can think of a smorgasbord like a buffet or a potluck meal. Some guests bring dishes to share.
Does Delallo Offer Charcuterie Board Ingredients?
As experts in all things entertaining, gifting and great food, DeLallo offers everything you need to create the most exquisite charcuterie board. Whether you are entertaining a crowd for a holiday gathering or simply want to indulge in some serious gourmet snacking, we’ve got you covered. Not only do we offer all of the cured meats and specialty cheeses needed to set off your charcuterie and cheese boards, but we have all of the best-loved spreads, gourmet garnishes, crispy gourmet toasts, olives and pickled vegetables to complete your presentation. For those wanting to send a delicious charcuterie board gift, our gift collection has something for everyone.