Designing Dinner: Creating a Charcuterie and Cheese Board
Hands down one of the most desirable dishes for entertaining, charcuterie (pronounced shar-koo-tuh-ree or as the French say it, shar-koo-tree) boards offer a simple summer meal idea on a warm evening. With all of the options available, each member of the family can mix and match their favorite flavors to create a one-of-a-kind charcuterie and cheese board.
French for cold cured meats, charcuterie platters offer a feast for each of the senses. As beautiful as they are appetizing, artful arrangement of the palate-pleasing abundance of tastes, textures and colors is just as important as the ingredients themselves.
The options are infinite both for ingredients and design. Depending upon the tastes of those indulging, meats and cheeses can be decadent or simple.
Choose a Platter
Wooden cutting boards, marble or slate trays and ceramic platters are perfect choices. The more people that will be indulging, the larger the board or platter needed. You may want one primary, large platter with smaller accompanying boards for breads or spreads.
Choose a Flavor Theme
Charcuterie platters can be whatever you desire. They can have a distinct French or Italian flair or be something simple created with deli meats and cheeses. Think outside the box and create a Mediterranean or Indian platter or, for those who don’t eat meat or dairy, design one bursting with plant-based options.
Gather Bowls & Utensils
Small bowls, spoons, pickle forks and knives help ‘noshers’ easily fill their plate without using fingers. It also adds to the attractiveness of the display.
Include four to six different types of cured meats, focusing on offering an assortment of flavors and textures. As a general rule, include two ounces of meat per person. Some favorites include pepperoni, salami, summer sausage, prosciutto and paté. For non-meat eaters, include tinned fish such as anchovies or sardines or plant-based options. Be sure to roll larger pieces so they can be arranged neatly and to allow diners to easily take what they want.
Mild to intense, soft and hard cheeses, spicy, stinky and sweet, once again variety rules. Choose your favorites but ensure color, texture and flavor abound. Cheddar, gouda, blue cheese, brie, provolone, chèvre, mozzarella, even non-dairy options have a place on the charcuterie board. Young children may prefer milder cheeses so be sure to include cheese that appeal to their taste profile as well.
Antipasti & Vegetables
An assortment of olives, marinated artichoke hearts or hearts of palm and acidic pickles are a must. Crudités, cut-up vegetables such as carrots, cucumber, celery, and bell pepper, offer color and crunch. Also include fresh cherry or sundried tomatoes and a mixture of pickled peppers or vegetables for a kick of heat and tang.
Fresh & Dried Fruits
Fruits, whether fresh or dried, add a much-needed burst of sweetness. Focus on what is in season: slices of fresh peaches, pear, apple, grapes, pomegranate seeds and berries are popular options. Dried apricots, figs, plums, apples and dates add a unique level of flavor and texture that compliment the salty, spicy and tangy meats, cheeses and antipasto. Use small bowls to contain olives, marinated and pickled vegetables.
Nuts & Seeds
Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, pecans and cashews are top contenders. Add to the variety by choosing a combination of raw and roasted, salted and sweet. Nuts provide a toothsome texture along with great protein, especially for those who don’t eat meat.
Mustards, fig, quince and berry jams, honey, bruschetta spread, humus, chutneys and nut butters amplify any charcuterie board. Keep in jars if appropriate or add into a small bowl. Be sure to provide small spoons or knives for serving and spreading.
Breads & Crackers
Last but definitely not least is bread. The variety available is endless. Breadsticks, thin slices of baguette, crostini, naan, pita and crackers of all kinds. Again, focus on providing a variety of texture and flavor. Place bread and crackers in rows or on small plates.
Assembling Your Board
The goal is to have a board that is artful, meaning beautifully displayed and bursting with ingredient options. Begin by adding the stars of the show, the meat, cheese and bread. Be sure to slice the cheese and roll up large slices of meat. Drizzle olive oil on the meats and sprinkle flaky sea salt and fresh ground pepper on any patés or mousses. Stack, fan and pile each type together, spacing all over the board or platter. Then add in the small bowls of antipasti, vegetables and spreads, including small serving utensils in each. Add bunches of grapes, scatterings of berries or dried fruits. Nuts should be piled here and there around the board. Place any remaining crackers, breadsticks and the like to the side on smaller platters. If preferred, you can create an entire platter just of bread and crackers.
What to Drink
To pair your platter with wine, red, rose, white and sparkling are all ideal options as the flavor profile of the board is so varied. Children may enjoy a refreshing sparkling water with a splash of juice and fresh fruit.
Time to Indulge
Dinner is complete! Before you dig in, admire the bounty and beauty of the dinner you’ve designed as that is a huge part of the enjoyment of charcuterie and cheese boards. You may just want to take a picture; we will bet your board is truly photo worthy. A charcuterie and cheese board is best appreciated al fresco so we encourage you to have a picnic in your Los Altos, Campbell or Mountain View backyard.