During the holidays, when we’re almost guaranteed to be entertaining, the charcuterie board is a brilliant way to keep guests satisfied until the main course comes out. It’s the ultimate make-ahead appetizer, giving guests a fabulous feast without wasting any precious space in the already over-worked oven.
In case you’re unfamiliar, or have trouble pronouncing it (like me and everyone else), it’s shar-kood-er-ee. But you can make it easy on yourself and just call it a cheeseboard. (Technically a cheeseboard is primarily cheese, while ‘charcuterie’ is the French word that refers just to the cured meats. But most people today use the terms interchangeably.) The larger platters are more appropriately named for the types of items that are included. Italians call it ‘antipasti.’ Greeks call it ‘mezze.’ Spanish call it ‘tapas.’ It’s all pretty much the same idea — small servings of each culture’s take on breads, spreads, meats, cheeses and snackable fruits and veggies, arranged as an attractive, sharable platter.
A great charcuterie board can please just about any palate. Guests can shy away from items that don’t fit their diets, and still create all sorts of tasty combinations to keep their experience unique and entertaining.
A great charcuterie board is full of careful considerations, variety and flavor, but we’ve gone ahead and taken the mystery out of making one by seeking out the experts at Delallo, an Italian speciality food store outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that distributes charcuterie items and special imported Italian and Mediterranean foods all over the country. Delallo is the leading importer of olives and other Mediterranean specialities, so they know their way around a charcuterie board more than most.
Here are seven tips for building your own charcuterie board this holiday season:
1. foundations first
Building a charcuterie board can appear to be overwhelming, but it’s really quite easy. Start with the foundation — meat and cheese.
“When you’re beginning to construct your cheeseboard you really want to start to think about how you’re going to format the actual board itself,” said Guiliana Pozzuto, Director of Marketing at Delallo. “I like to put the cheese and the meats down first. They’re really the anchors of the board and they’re what is going to be eaten the most of so you need the largest quantities of those items.”
2. don’t skimp
About 2 ounces of charcuterie per person is a normal amount. If you’re doing more of a cocktail party where charcuterie is the main event, up your offering to about 5 ounces per person, and have plenty of breads on hand.
“It’s always nice to keep a little bit extra of the items you put on the board, so that as the party goes on and people start to pick, you can replenish and keep the board looking full,” said Pozzuto.
3. Mix the tastes and textures
A hard salami, fresh sliced Mortadella, a smoked sausage, mixing up textures makes for a more interesting eating experience.
For cheeses, you’ll want to pick a variety from hard (cheddar, swiss), semi-soft (Fontina, Havarti), washed rind (Limburger, Taleggio), blues (Gorgonzola, Roquefort) or creamy kinds (brie). Pozzuto advises varying the milk type as well to include a cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, and goat’s milk selection. Choose between two and six cheese for your board depending on size — That’s at least one different cheese per person up to six.
“Leave a couple of cheeses in full wedges and supply a knife so your guests can cut at them as they like,” said Pozzuto. “But some of the other cheeses like a Havarti or a sharp cheddar, it’s nice to pre-cube so guests who just want to pick can pick.”
4. Complete the picture
Add antipasti items like grilled artichokes and olives in small bowls to prevent the liquid from oozing into your other items and making them soggy. Also add tapenade, pate, bruschetta, fig spreads and jams that accompany the meats and cheeses.
“Breads, crackers and toasts are an essential part of a cheese board, its something to put your spreads, and your tapenade and bruschetta on,” said Pozzuto.
Focaccia toasts, a nice crostini toast and breadsticks are great options that add fantastic crunch, but even a less formal cracker or baguette can do the job here.
5. Filling space
It’s not just filling space if you do it with a delicious variety of dried fruits and nuts.
“I tend to save fruits and nuts for the end because it’s a great way to make the board look robust,” said Pozzuto. “What I think makes the board look really special is when you add some fresh herbs to it as well. This also helps fill in some of the gaps.”
Pozzuto recommends fresh rosemary and thyme for the bright green color.
6. take it over the top
If you can build your charcuterie tray directly onto the surface you’re serving it on, you can allow the ingredients to overflow and give a nice, natural look, Pozzuto explains. You also want to make sure you add a variety of serving utensils to help guests scoop out the spreads, pierce the slices, and spread and cut the cheeses.
For a finishing touch, label your cheeses with a tag or write directly on the slate, and try to include what kind of milk it’s made from too. That way your guests know what they’re eating and can learn a little something, too.
There is no exact science to the perfect cheese board. Experiment. Move things around. See what colors and textures look good next to each other. Buy unusual cheeses you’ve never heard of. Kalamatas are delicious, but also try adding lesser known olives like Gordal or Castelvetrano to your board. Seek out a fig fruit spread or artichoke bruschetta or something else unusual or interesting. Every thing is really up to your own taste and preference.
It’s all trial and delicious, delicious error.
Watch as Guiliana Pozzuto of Delallo shows us how to shop and assemble the perfect charcuterie board.