One of the easiest trends in hosting is the charcuterie board. It’s the best way to please different types of eaters when serving drinks among friends. You’ve seen different types of boards online—fruits, veggies, meats, cheese, and jams—but what to choose to make yours at home? As a food stylist, I’ve learned more than I could possibly imagine about creating cheese and cured meat boards. Here I’ll share some tips from the experts at Lady & Larder, who are pros in the art of mixing and matching handcrafted cheeses and cured meats. Keep reading for charcuterie board ideas around four essential ingredients, according to the experts.
To begin, serve your cheese and cured meats at room temperature so that they can really shine. If you are going to have your cured meats pre-sliced—which is recommended unless you have a commercial meat slicer at home—ask for them to be sliced thin. Keep the presentation of the meats airy, laid out in rows or loose waves in between cheeses.
There are a few essential types of meat to consider when building your charcuterie board.
Salami: A type of cured sausage consisting of fermented and air-dried meat, typically beef or pork.
Prosciutto: One of the most popular meats to use. It is sourced from Italy and is made from the back leg of a pig or boar.
Coppa: Very similar to prosciutto, except made from the pig’s shoulder or neck.
Jambon de Bayonne: The most popular French ham, air-dried and salted. The flavour has a hint of sweetness and almost no salt flavour.
Speck: Meat cured with spices like bay leaves, nutmeg, juniper berries, garlic and then smoked.
Bresaola: Unlike the others, this meat is made from beef, which is salted and air-dried.
When it comes to cheese, always include one familiar type, like cheddar, to make your guests feel comfortable diving in. After a glass of wine or two, you will find that your guests tend to get a bit more adventurous. Take care in sourcing and selecting your picks. Don’t be shy when you get to the cheese counter—ask questions! You will find that cheese enthusiasts are very passionate about giving their recommendations. Select cheeses that represent a variety of colours, textures, and flavors. Another way of creating variety is by selecting your cheeses based on the type of milk: cow, goat, or sheep. Odd numbers are best visually, so select three, five, or seven options depending on your group size.
Start by placing the cheeses in different areas of your board and mix up the different colors and sizes. Soft cheeses can be left in wedges or wheels, and firmer cheeses can be cut or crumbled for ease.
Each charcuterie board should have a variety of cheese from each of these six main categories:
Fresh: Brie and Neufchâtel are soft cheeses that mature for more than a month.
Soft: This includes feta and camembert.
Semi-soft: These cheeses have a high moisture content and tend to be mild-tasting. Some well-known varieties include Havarti and Munster.
Medium-soft: Swiss-style cheeses, such as Emmental, Gruyère, and Jarlsberg.
Hard or grating cheese: Parmesan and Pecorino Romano are firmly packed into large forms and aged for months.
Blue: Includes blue-veined cheeses like gorgonzola and Roquefort.
Texture is the key with accoutrements. Include nuts, fruits, and olives that provide a mixture of salty and sweet flavours. Next to the board, offer some of your favourite crackers or crusty bread. The Lady & Larder team loves using a crunchy neutral cracker made simply with olive oil and sea salt so that it pairs well with the other flavours on the board. Pistachios, almonds, raisins, persimmons, and dates are popular accoutrements.
Remember, simplicity is best. Pick one to two spreads for your board. To create balance, pair sweet with savory—for example, if you choose honey, then instead of another sweet option, go with a savory grainy mustard or spicy pepper jam to create variety. Finish off the board with a garnish like fresh woody herbs, like rosemary or flowering thyme, along with olive leaves or flowers of choice. Don't forget to place small spoons or spreaders around the board so guests can dive right in.
For more creative charcuterie board ideas, take a look at our guide to edible flower and cheese pairings.