In case you haven’t noticed, charcuterie boards are all the rage right now. There’s only one problem. Very few sites are actually using the term “charcuterie” correctly! I’m not sure how this became so convoluted, but let me set the record straight.
What does “charcuterie” mean?
The word “charcuterie” is French. It’s a noun. It can have two meanings. In France, it will be the shop that you visit to buy cured meats, sausages, salami, pâté, galantines and rillettes. While most charcuterie products are comprised of pork, you’ll find all types of cured meats in a charcuterie. (This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn commission on qualifying purchases.)
The second meaning, refers to the actual meat. So a Charcuterie Board is one that is filled with cured meats, pâtés and various other meat products.
Prosciutto is a lovely addition to a board. Last year I traveled to Italy and was able to visit an ethical agriturismo that produces some of the best prosciutto in the world. You can read about Antica Corte Pallavicina here. If you want to read more about how prosciutto is cured, here’s an article from Christina’s Cucina.
One of the disciplines in cooking school was spending one term in Garde Manger. The garde manger chef is in charge of all the cold dishes in a kitchen. We learned how to make different types of sausages, pâtés, savory mousses, and galantines. We also prepared all the canapés, hors d’oeuvres and cold salads. So basically a charcuterie board is one that contains meat and anything you serve with meat, such as olives, gherkins and pickled vegetables, and of course crackers, or crusty bread.
What’s the difference between a “grazing board” and a charcuterie board?
Since the rise in popularity of these colorful boards in the last 2 years, the internet has been flooded with “charcuterie” boards that have no place using that name.
A grazing board is a great catch-all term for anything that doesn’t include MEAT. A “hot chocolate grazing board” is a nice idea, but you can’t call it a “Hot Chocolate Charcuterie Board”. Substitute the word “meat” for “charcuterie” and you’ll see how silly it sounds; “Hot Chocolate MEAT Board”. Huh? I’ve seen “Christmas Dessert Charcuterie” boards, I’ve seen VEGAN Charcuterie boards, and even Christmas cookie charcuterie boards.
How did so many get this term confused? Even if you don’t speak French, nearly everyone knows what a chauffeur is. Aperitif, baguette, souffle, and vinaigrette are all words we’ve adopted from the French language. Charcuterie should be no different. So go ahead and make a beautiful Hot Chocolate Board or a gorgeous Christmas Dessert Grazing Board, but just don’t call it a charcuterie board.
So now that we know what a charcuterie board is and isn’t, how do you go about preparing one?
How to build a beautiful charcuterie board.
While charcuterie is traditionally served on a wooden board, there’s nothing that says you have to use one. I’ve used cutting boards or even large platters. Size matters though. Even if you’re making a small board for only six to eight people, use a large platter so you can fill it with the extras. Abundance is what makes a board look really impressive. This is my favorite olive wood board. But here’s a budget friendly wooden board that would also make a lovely presentation.
How much meat and cheese per person?
This is entirely subjective. Before you try to figure the amount out, answer these questions. Is this going to be the centerpiece of a cocktail party, or just one component of a larger buffet table? Will there also be passed hors d’oeuvres? Will it be the only thing to eat at a wine tasting, or served in the middle of the afternoon between meals? After you’ve decided when and how you’ll be serving your board, figure on 1 to 2 ounces of both meat and cheese per person.
Choosing the meats and cheeses.
Even if it’s a small group, I still like a variety. So that just means I’ll choose smaller amounts of everything. A blue cheese like Roquefort, Stilton or Gorgonzola, is always a popular choice. A small (or large) wheel of brie or Camembert makes an excellent centerpiece. Goat’s cheese blends well with prosciutto and fig jam and a sharp English cheddar, Spanish Manchego, or Dutch Gouda would make your board very continental. In addition to a variety of sausage and salami, speck, and pâtés, this Smoked Trout Mousse could be served as well. Here are more ideas for meat to add to your board.
What else goes on a charcuterie board?
Most boards usually contain dried fruits, olives, nuts, gherkins, and a sweet spread like honey, or fig jam. To keep it classic, serve the hummus, and other spreads and dips separately. You’ll also want to included different types of crackers, and even a baguette of bread depending again, the intention of the meal. If the board is meant to substitute for a light lunch, serve a couple of interesting breads, or omit the bread if it’s for a cocktail party, or more elegant event.
Building a beautiful board!
Start with laying out all the cheeses and meats. I like to have them in varying sizes for visual appeal. Usually Brie or Camembert will come in a rustic box which is a nice anchor.
After I’ve places all the main components around the board, and I’m pleased with how it looks, I’ll add the extras like a small bowl of olives and something sweet like honey or fig jam. Apricot jam would be lovely on a spring board.
Dried fruit and nuts can be layered next. Add green or red grapes cut into manageable pieces. I like to imagine how many grapes someone might want. They can be layered to look like a bigger bunch.
Think of colors when choosing grapes. With a lot of dark meats, I like to add a pop of green. Next tuck crackers in all the empty spaces.
Finally add sprigs of fresh herbs. BUT nothing should go on a board this isn’t edible, so don’t add holly because it’s festive. It’s also poisonous.
Assembling a charcuterie board is one of the most relaxing jobs, it’s almost like making art, no two are ever alike!
Some of the items used in this post are available at my Amazon Affiliate Store.
- 8 ounces prosciutto thinly sliced
- 8 ounces salami sliced
- 8 ounces sopressata sliced
- 8 ounces capicola thinly sliced
- 8 ounces brie or camembert
- 8 ounces blue cheese stilton, roquefort or gorgonzola
- 8 ounces goat cheese
- 8 ounces cheddar
- 4 ounces gherkins drained
- 6 ounces olives packed in olive oil, drained
- 6 ounces almonds
- 4 ounces fig jam
- 4 ounces dried apricots
- 8 ounces green grapes
- 2 figs quartered or halved for garnish
- For best results, place all the meats and cheeses first. Decide on a pleasing arrangement. Space the meats and cheeses.
- Add jars of olives or jams
- Next add the crackers, dried fruit and small bunches of grapes.
- Scatter nuts and tuck sprigs of rosemary into the crevices. Finish by garnishing with fig wedges.