Charcuterie Boards

CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
By Heather Weller
Photography by AB-Photography.com

Although the charcuterie board is not a new idea, there has been a recent surge in its popularity, making it a “must-have” for parties, celebrations and events. To understand the true origins of the charcuterie board, please fasten your seatbelts as we travel back in time for a brief history lesson.  

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Charcuterie (English: “shahr-KOO-tuh-ree;”  French: “shar-kytuh-ree”) is a culinary practice that originated thousands of years ago. The word “charcuterie” comes from the French words “chair” (flesh) and “cuit” (cooked) and was originally used to describe small shops that specialized in selling not only pork products, but also organ meat that was revered as a sophisticated and tasty treat. As refrigeration methods were not readily available at the time, the art of salting and smoking meats rose in popularity. As basic forms of charcuterie such as cold cuts, hot dogs, bacon and sausage have become popular recently, the definition of an actual charcuterie board has taken on new meaning.

A modern charcuterie board is an artful arrangement of finger foods that are easy to serve and fun to eat, with a variety of colors, textures, shapes, flavors and contrasts. Although a traditional selection of meats, cheeses, fruits and nuts may be preferred, there are endless options and ideas for assembling boards that are delightfully nontraditional. With so many possible combinations of flavors and themes, it’s easy to create your own snack board or larger lavish meal board that is sure to impress guests and is guaranteed to be a perfect addition to any gathering.

THE TRADITIONAL CHARCUTERIE BOARD

Meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, breads, crackers, nuts, spreads, jellies and jams are the most traditional choices for a charcuterie board, with meats traditionally being featured. Prosciutto, sausages, salami, pepperoni, ham, terrines, galantines and pate are generally the most popular selections. The meat is typically sliced very thin and presented on the board in various ways by folding, rolling and bunching the slices. 

Cheeses are another traditional staple. With so many colors and textures to choose from, it’s easy to find delicious slices and spreads to complement any board. Seek contrasts in hard and soft, pre-sliced and spreadable options. Gouda, Gruyere, cheddars, Brie, burrata, Roquefort, Camembert, fresh mozzarella balls and Manchego are common selections. 

Popular fruits and vegetables for charcuterie boards include grapes, dried mango, apricots, dates, sliced apples, pears, melon, berries, dried bananas, pomegranate seeds, fresh figs, peppers, cauliflower, cucumber, tomatoes and zucchini. Fruits and vegetables contribute appealing splashes of color to the board. Seasonality is often a deciding factor for the inclusion of fresh produce. 

Breads and crackers provide great filler for open gaps on the board. Artisan breads, toasted baguettes, pretzels and gourmet crackers in different shapes, sizes and thicknesses are all common. Gluten-free options are also available to meet dietary needs.

Nuts add texture, dimension, unique flavor and crunch to a board. Dried salted nuts, spicy nuts, chocolate-covered peanuts or raisins, caramelized nuts and almonds are popular choices.  

Tiny bowls containing jellies, jams, spreads, hummus, dips and honey not only provide added flavor and texture, but also hold important aesthetic value in the layout of the charcuterie board. Small spoons, spreaders and ladles are the perfect size for serving these additions. 

It’s easy to get carried away when shopping for the perfect items to add to the charcuterie board. However, with some simple planning for the appropriate size board, it is easy to create a delicious spread of items that looks expensive, but costs less than $30. Keep the following tips in mind as you shop: Remember that smaller portions are better; select cheeses and items that can be presented in different colors, sizes and shapes; and purchase variety packs of meats whenever possible. 

Initially, creating a charcuterie board may seem a bit daunting. However, I quickly learned that there is no right or wrong way to create a charcuterie board and have since accepted my obsession for creating unique charcuterie boards that are perfect for all occasions, ages and dietary needs. My charcuterie board adventures have introduced me to a new way of serving up some fun and may do the very same for you!  

Presentation is key for any charcuterie board. It’s important to find a board that not only works well with your theme, but also has the space to accommodate the foods you’d like to include. The most popular charcuterie serving boards and platters are available in many sizes and styles made of natural wood, olive wood, slate, metal or marble. 

Roll, fold and bunch meat slices. If you are creating a charcuterie board for use as an appetizer, plan for about 2 ounces of meat per person. Place meats and larger items on the board with special care to separate the various meats onto different areas.

After choosing the serving board, place tiny bowls and cups for dips, jams, honey and spreads on desired areas of the board.  

Assemble additional items with consideration of various textures, colors, flavors, shapes and sizes.

Fill empty spaces with small items like nuts, breads and crackers.

CREATIVE CHARCUTERIE THEMES/IDEAS TO GET YOU STARTED:
• Breakfast board
• Movie snack board
• French toast breakfast board
• Mother’s Day brunch board
• S’more charcuterie board
• Grilled fruit and vegetable board
• Grilled breakfast board
• Big game sandwich board
• Mediterranean-, Greek- or Indian-inspired boards