7 Tips for Curating the Perfect Charcuterie Board And Everything That Goes Along with It!
Let me guess, you have a holiday party to throw with a casual crowd, but you want to strut your sophisticated hosting swag too. Don’t worry, I know how you feel because I just went through the same thing and came up with a great solution. For our holiday cookie baking party, I decided to take on the popular charcuterie board and all the great things that go with it. I know you’ll be beyond happy when you follow these 7 tips on making your own charcuterie board. Because Hello! Soirees is known for it’s attention to every detail, so this guide will give you more than just a shopping list and charcuterie board design – look for the secret “surprise!” tips!
We’re all drawn to beautiful things, right? When you serve food like it’s a work of art, your guests get a feast for the eyes and mouths. One of the great things about this menu choice is that it’s so flexible. It can be served as an appetizer or be the center of a light-meal surrounded with salad sides. The secret is to choose ingredients for their contribution towards flavor, texture and beauty. To really slay it, keep in mind each individual part of this meal pairs with other parts of the meal. Don’t worry, we’ll give you everything you need to keep your eye on the prize!
And now for the fun!
1. Start with beautiful serve wear such as:
- A long marble or wooden board for the cured meats and maybe a bit of garnish along with some fruit (for the board).
- A large platter If you want to be very casual and for a more formal deal, use small boards for each cheese. Now some people go so far as to walk around with cheese and offer it to each guest. I didn’t go that far because I wanted everyone to mingle around the food.
- Individual cheese knives for each cheese so that flavors don’t get mixed together as people work their way through the delish magic.
- Serving trays for fruit.
- Baskets or bowls for bread/crackers.
- Small and medium sized bowls for pickled food and nuts with individual serving tools for each item.
- Combination of smoked and cured meats. Start with smoked, country ham with a good balance of salt and savory flavors. Ham is a meat choice that is soft and less intense intense that a cured meat. Add cured meats such as hard salami, very thinly sliced prosciutto and a tangy sausage or kielbasa. These tend to be saltier and more intense in flavor. If this is an appetizer, serve with lots of bread and cheese. Two ounces of meat per person is plenty. If it’s the big tah dah main meal joined with side salads, increase to four to five ounces of meat per person. The type of meat listed here tends to be rich so a little usually goes a long way. But hey, you know your crowd best so use their eating preferences as a guide here too.
- Several cheeses to maintain the same variety of flavor notes offered with meat (strong to mild). For a soft cheese, use brie, semi-soft is gouda and medium cheddar, firm cheese is smoked cheddar, hard cheese is parmesan or grana Padano. Don’t forget blue cheese for extra savory. These are just suggestions because the skies the limit when it comes to the choice in each texture and flavor category. Remember, you’ve got a continuum going from less to more intense just like with meat.
- Jams, mustard and even hummus for spreads. Spreads are the unsung heroes in this menu so don’t underestimate their contribution. Sweet spreads are jams such as fig (paired with brie), black currant (paired with blue cheese), strawberry (paired with gouda), apple (paired with smoked cheddar), and orange marmalade (paired with parmesan). Two types of spicy mustard are nice and keep your hummus simple. Here’s the secret to good pairing suggestions – the more intense the spread flavor is, the less intense cheese choice should be. Here’s a fun idea for the sweet spreads – make a tag for suggested pairings of cheese and spread and wait for the wows!
- Pickled food. Yes, that includes regular pickles but it’s so much more than that. Pickled vegetables go sooooooo nicely with meats and cheeses. They provide a little acid and can give just the right crunch to the whole experience. Little gherkins are great but think about pretty stuff like pickled onions, pickled green beans, carrots and even cocktail onions. While you’re at it, you can add olives to this category. There are so many olives stuffed with all sorts of other great things-it’s a limitless world out there for pickled food. Here’s a secret “surprise!” on choosing pickled items: have a variety available with a one item that’s CLEARLY MARKED on the medium/hot (as in spicy) side of life. There are always one or two people that love “hot” pickled items and it usually makes for a hot (couldn’t resist) conversation piece.
- Nuts and Dried Fruits. These elements add beauty and act as palate cleansers. Some great choices are dried prunes, dried apricots, dried dates, pecans, cashews, almonds and walnuts. It’s best to avoid serving mixed nuts because they won’t have the same “clean” effect and are usually salty. Here’s a secret “surprise!” for this gathering – add dark chocolate to this category. It is a great “in between” item and if you’re serving wine, people love pairing dark chocolate with wine.
- Fresh Fruits. Fresh fruit is important because it offers a different element of texture (and beauty). When choosing fruit, think of how it pairs with cheese and meat. Figs, apples, pears and grapes are deeeeeeelicious additions that add sweetness, a variety of texture and juiciness. Here’s a secret “surprise!”- choose one unusual fruit that isn’t usually served at gatherings such blood oranges or cherry tomatoes (because then you get to be the expert on why something is classified as a fruit).
- Bread and Crackers. Let’s face it, there’s nothing that isn’t made better when you eat it with bread. Bring on the baguette with each sliced cut at an angle so that each little piece holds just a teeny tiny bit more than if cut on the round. Rye crisps are great for their stout flavor (they’re almost the beer of crackers, aren’t they?) and if you want to get really crazy with this, you can drizzle olive oil on sliced sourdough and bake it long enough to toast. Cut it up into cracker-sized pieces and watch everyone bow down to your hostess extraordinaire-edness! Here’s a secret “surprise!” – take two packets of saltine crackers, put them in a plastic bag. Combine one stick of melted butter with ¼ tsp garlic powder, ¼ tsp paprika, and ¼ tsp of onion powder. Add butter mix to crackers in bag. Gently move crackers in bag until they’re coated. Lay them on cooking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 10-12 minutes until dry. These are not only pretty, they’re unusual and can be made up to a week in advance!
- Honey, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This is to drizzle on bread and soft cheese. Just because.
3. Setting Up of the Charcuterie Board: A charcuterie board is not just something that guests eat, it’s also something they see so you want to be as creative as possible in how you arrange the board. Make each type of meat its own row lined up on the short end of the board (rather than long rows). If you want to add even more visual interest, use fresh dill lined up in between each row of meat. Or make each row horizontal with meats alternating from dark to light back to dark. No matter how you choose to place meat items on the board, make sure they’re “grabber” friendly. Separate individual slices of meat so guests don’t have to pull them apart. If you plan on serving the sausage hot, be sure to add that last but you can keep the rest of the meat pre-sliced and covered in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
4. Setting Up of the Cheese Board: If you’re going to serve cheese on one large platter, remember NEVER crowd the cheese. EVER. Two important reasons. One is that each cheese needs enough room to offer its own unique flavor and if crowded, flavors tend to blend on the edges. Two is that you might end up with a knuckle in one of your cheeses as you slice the one you want. Trust me, give the cheese cutting and breathing room, please. Speaking of cutting, remember that different knife deal in tip one? That’s important as cheese is served at room temperature (take out at least one hour before party starts) and gets softer as the evening goes on. You don’t residue from one cheese on the other. If you want to avoid the cheese mixing issue, you can serve each cheese on its own little board or plate.
5. Setting up the spreads: This is pretty easy to do with little fuss. Use small bowls for each jam with a small spoon pre-set in each bowl. Use slightly larger bowls for pickled food, nuts and hummus. I like to put honey in a ceramic cup with a honey drizzler and the oil and vinegar is a cruet set.
6. Setting up bread: Bread and crackers can be served in bowls lined with tea towels that have been washed in unscented detergent or on platters. Whatever you decide to do, be sure not to cut the bread too far in advance so that it doesn’t dry out too much.
7. Serving beverages should be on the simple side.
- For beer, offer a popular domestic for those who like “your everyday beer”. For those who prefer something else, stick with ale and porter. Each appeal to a range of palates, and all three can cut through the fat of the meats and play off other characteristics of the food (now if that didn’t impress you, I don’t know what to say).
- For wine, there are things to consider when pairing with meat, according to my research on this huge topic. When choosing your wine, go for something that has a more “fruit-driven” characteristic. This means that the wine you’re serving will have its dominant flavor be on the sweet fruit side of things but it doesn’t mean it’s a sweet wine. It means that it’s going to have a sweet fruit smell and the first impression on the tongue is of a fruit. Secret “surprise!” your guests by buying a variety of wine so that each bottle has a different fruit-driven characteristic. Create a “wine key” by listing each wine with its primary fruit. Laminate the list and set it out next to wines. If you want to create a “guess what” opportunity, write “see other side after your first taste” on the opposite side of the wine list so that guests can do a bit of wine tasting. Since fruit forward is a characteristic of both red and white wines, you can have a pretty good variety. Terms typically used for red wines are “prune, candied fruit, black raisin, maraschino cherry and sweet raspberry (to name a few). For white wine, typical terms are sweet lemon, mandarin orange, ripe peach, sweet pineapple and caramel (again, just to name a few). Okay, enough wine-ing!
- None alcoholic beverages don’t have to be boring. As you can see from all the wine talk, there are many layers to a wine from the first sniff to the lasting aftertaste. People who are enthusiasts about wine and food pairing have much to work with because of the complexity of a wine’s characteristics. The challenge with non-alcoholic drinks is to offer a similar experience when people say “no thank you” to alcohol. Truthfully, it’s hard to get a non-alcoholic drink experience that has complexity and layers. But it can be done and because you want to give everything equal attention, try these suggestions. For tea, place 10 tea bags, 2 oranges sliced thinly and a bunch of fresh mint leaves in bottom of a pitcher. Slowly fill it with water and set it in sun for four hours (or following your typical tea making process and add fruit/mint when tea is cooled off and let steep for 4 hours. Strain tea and discard orange/mint leaves. Serve tea with fresh orange slices it so guests know it isn’t just plain iced tea. It’s also nice to have mineral water available as well as unflavored iced tea and non-fizz iced water.
- There you have it. Seven tips that make you the curator of a five-start charcuterie board! Not only will you have yet another reason to kiss your hosting hesitations goodbye (which is always one of our goals for you), your guests will have a real “choose your own food adventure” and everyone will feel that they’re livin’ the foodie dream! Yaaaaaaaaas, you did it!
For more information about wine, read this: http://winefolly.com/blog/
For more information about pickled foods, read this: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/food-recipes/news/a19516/surprising-things-you-can-pickle/
For more information about cheese, read this: https://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/department/cheese
For more information about cured meats for charcuterie board, read this: https://www.dartagnan.com/buy/cured-smoked-meat/
Main Photo: Pioneer Woman Blog