Creating CHARcutERiE Boards

The first thing to practice is the golden rule of cheese & charcuterie boards:
Simplicity is best.  And that’s something the experts agree on.

Creating a cheese & charcuterie board (platter) is easy and quick. 

 
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There is not necessarily such a thing as “wrong” when it comes to the choice of ingredients, there are a few general pairing guidelines that will ensure the flavors complement rather than compete. Watch Videos on Making the Perfect Charcuterie Board.

 

Selecting cheese for your charcuterie board.

How many different cheeses should you choose?  Most experts agree that no cheese board needs more than 3 cheeses, maybe four if you’re feeding a crowd.  More is not better, it is taste bud overload.  Allot 2 ounces of each cheese per person.

How do I know which cheeses to pair with each other?

Think about it in terms of boldness of flavor – it’s nice to have a spectrum of more mild to strong. Here’s one example of a combination that is not suggested:  Stilton, Danish Blue and Gorgonzola.  Not only are they all different kinds of the same cheese, they’re all very bold cheeses.  Serve all three together on a cheeseboard and that is bold flavor overload.

Instead, arrange a blue cheese, a double-crème brie and an aged gouda – different types of cheese across the boldness spectrum and with different textures.  It adds a nice variation to go for something with a soft, “bloomy” rind (e.g., camembert or double-crème brie), a semi-hard cheese, and a harder, aged cheese.  A fresh, spreadable cheese like chevre is another great option to include. Another option is to arrange the cheese around a particular theme.  For example, by country:  French, Italian, Dutch, English, German, American, etc. or by type of milk (cow, sheep, goat).

What kind of charcuterie cured meat should I include?

Like the cheeses, it’s nice to include something a little milder along with something bolder.  Some great choices include hard salami, Spanish dry-cured chorizo, sopressata and cured whole-muscle meat that is shaved thin like prosciutto or jamón Ibérico.  A pâté is another option that offers texture variation; a soft, spreadable mixture of ground meats and other ingredients like vegetables, nuts and herbs. For charcuterie boards you want to feature cured meats.

How much meat should I serve?

Charcuterie is pretty rich and the general recommendation tends to be about 2 ounces per person if you’re serving it as an appetizer.  The same is true for the cheese.  If you’re serving it at a cocktail party where the charcuterie is the bulk of the food for the evening, then you can double it and serve it with plenty of bread.

What Accompaniments go with the Cheese and Meats?

As a general rule cheese pairs especially well with sweet things like fruits, honey and jam, while the meats pair with the savory and briny items like olives and pickles.  Grapes are a classic accompaniment to cheese that add both sweet and crunch as well as visual appeal.  Other great fruit options include fresh figs, cherry tomatoes, and slices of pear, apple or melon.  For the savory/acidic selection, besides the already-mentioned olives and pickles, other great options are marinated artichokes, pickled onions, and pickled peppers. Another favorite is fresh steamed or pickled asparagus.

These accompaniments serve several functions:

They provide sweet and briny contrasts to the cheese and meats; they heighten the flavors of the cheese and meats; they add variety of texture as well as add color; and they serve as palate cleansers between bites. Finally, nuts are always a great addition and contribute the must-have “crunch” to any cheese and charcuterie board. Marcona almonds and walnuts are classic options.

Choosing Charcuterie Condiments

Stick with one or two condiments like one sweet and one savory option (e.g., a stone-ground mustard). The most classic and versatile jam is fig.  It’s kind of your one-size-fits all condiment for cheese.  The brighter, fruitier jams, like sour cherry, are particular great with soft fresh cheeses like chevre.  Honey pairs really well with aged cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano, alpine cheeses like Comté and Gruyère, and with tangy cheddars.

The bread and crackers to serve with your Charcuterie

Nothing beats a chewy, crispy bread to accompany a cheese or charcuterie board.  Slices of fresh baguette or small slices of another good crusty bread will always be a welcome sight on any cheese and charcuterie board. You can offer both bread and crackers if you prefer, especially for guests who are gluten-free.  There are some great gluten-free cracker options out there.  I found brands I’ve never seen anywhere else.

And depending on your cheese selection you may even choose to go completely grain free and use something like pear or melon slices for your cheese & charcuterie board.  Or you can feature both baguette and a fruit, for example.

Should I pre-cut the cheese or serve it as the whole block?

This is a question that even the expert’s debate among themselves. Some hold that the whole chunk is more aesthetically pleasing and that the eating experience is enhanced if there is some interaction in slicing your own cheese while other experts argue that the food should be easily accessible without holding others up; that the experience should be smooth and hassle-free.  If you have large enough wedges so you can lay an extra chunk of it next to the pre-sliced pieces then you have both the aesthetics and practicality (you’ll also need a larger board).   If you are going to put out chunks and have your guests slice the cheeses themselves, lay out a separate cheese knife for each cheese so that the distinctive flavors and textures of each cheese are not intermingled.

To slice or to cube cheese, that is the question.

Some experts recommend not cubing the cheese (i.e., resembling your kids’ after-school snack), but rather stick to small wedges and strips that can be eaten in 1-2 bites.

Within the selection you want to have elements of savory, salty, smoky, sweet and soft and crunchy.  And you want color.

Should I serve the cheese and meats cold or at room temperature?

Both the texture and flavor of cheese is superior at room temperature so set the board out 30-60 minutes before you intend to serve it.  For meats 15 minutes at room temperature is adequate.

What platter are you going to serve it on?

If all you have is a plain white platter will certainly work just fine. But a nice board is at least half the presentation and will make everything on look gorgeous. For a warm and rustic feel you can never go wrong with wood, it’s the most popular and classic choice.  It can be any kind of wood. Rotate between bamboo, hardwood and olive wood – all the swirls and light and dark color variations can make even the simplest of presentations look stunning. Another popular choice for a more modern/contemporary look is slate.

Most of all have fun, and enjoy sharing Charcuterie with your friends and family.

on-Charcuterie-boards-book

by Lisa Dawn Bolton (Author)

An inspiring resource for throwing unforgettable get-togethers: Platters and Boards is the guide to entertaining with effortless style. Author Shelly Westerhausen shares the secrets to creating casually chic spreads anyone can make and everyone will enjoy (and envy).

 

Organized by time of day, 40 contemporary arrangements are presented with gorgeous photography, easy-to-prepare recipes, suggested meat and drink pairings, and notes on preparation and presentation. With recipes and presentation ideas for breakfast, brunch, appetizer, antipasto, charcuterie, and cheese boards to share with friends and family
 

A visual cornucopia of a cookbook with 40 contemporary arrangements presented with gorgeous photography, easy recipes, and helpful tips including:

  • Tips on portioning

  • Guides to picking surfaces and vessels

  • Recommendations for pairing complementary textures and flavors

  • A handy chart featuring board suggestions for a variety of occasions from holiday parties to baby showers

 
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