What is Charcuterie actually? Until I really got into the culinary scene, I didn’t know how to say it much less spell it correctly! Historically, it’s the making of preserved meats to keep food stable and eatable throughout the year by salting, smoking, and curing. Today, it has become a blanket word for a fancy meat and cheese plate for appetizers at a party!
So, what is commonly on a modern charcuterie board? The most common items are some sort of cured meat like salami, ham, chorizo which are thinly sliced for consumption. Cheese – which can be any kind from soft cheeses like brie or camembert, semi soft cheeses like gouda or fontina, hard cheeses like cheddar or parmesan and can be made from cow, goat, or sheep milk. Crackers & bread are the go between for the meat and cheese which can also include bread sticks. Olives or other pickled items that offer a briny or tangy flavor. Nuts of any variety to contrast the meats and cheeses. Fresh or dried fruit such as grapes, berries, figs, dried apricots, cranberries, raisins for the concentrated sweet flavors and CHOCOLATE is always welcome! And a spread or dip can also join the party like jellies, jams, preserves, honey or just mustard.
My favorite part of making a charcuterie board is the next step and that is the assembly. This is where I use my artistic license to make a charcuterie board beautiful and eye appealing. Picking the right platter/board/tray to house the items. The arrangement of all the items, making design shapes, cutting items in different sizes/shapes, making it easy to eat from and refill if necessary and make your mouth water just looking at it! Don’t forget to garnish! Fresh herbs make great garnish for beauty purposes, including rosemary, thyme, sage & parsley which all stand up to the time that the grazing board will be out for the guests. You don’t want saggy basil on there or another soft herb. You can also add edible flowers!
Serving can also be challenging – you really don’t want everyone’s hands all over the food – so make sure you have cheese cutting utensils if the cheese is not already cut up or tongs to pick up the food. Make small plates available (also cuts down on people overloading a big plate!), napkins, toothpicks, and a place to dispose of toothpicks or olive pits! There is also the option of charcuterie cups which is more of an individual portion size so everyone can just have their own.
How much/size should you make? I would suggest at least 2-3 items per person. Not everyone will eat everything, and some things will get more attention than others. Usually, have more meat and cheese as that is more of the star of the platter. And have back ups just in case you run out.
I have made many appetizer platters and love making them. If you ever need one or need some ideas – let me know!