The charcuterie board is one of life’s simple pleasures. It’s an easy to make, satisfying, and diverse selection of foods that can be as simple or as decadent as you’d like. How you serve it is up to you – you can use a wooden cutting board, platter, or really any plate.
Better yet, a charcuterie platter can be a meal, appetizer, or snack at any time of day. In Germany, you’ll often find a simple selection of bread, cheese, and cured meat as a breakfast staple (alongside a fine lager or ale, of course).
You can also adjust the size and variety to your tastes and wants. A small charcuterie board can still be diverse and varied and even an epic charcuterie board can be straightforward to prepare knowing the classic charcuterie board “recipe”.
So today, I’d like to put my decade of professional kitchen experience to good use — and teach you just how easy it can be to make an amazingly delicious easy charcuterie board in just five steps. Then, we’ll cover my favorite addition as well: How to pair drinks with your charcuterie board to really take it to the next level.
Step 1: Choose Your Cured Meats
Preserved meats are the star of the show in a simple charcuterie board for good reason: They’re equal parts salty and savory, easy to store for long periods of time, and available in a huge variety of flavors. Let’s take a look at some of the most common cured charcuterie meats, and what makes each one special:
Italy’s most famous and delectable meat, prosciutto, is dry cured from the hind leg or thigh of a pig. It’s intensely flavorful, with a thick and meaty texture that’s complimented by abundant saltiness. Look in your grocer’s specialty food section for thinly sliced prosciutto in its own package, or inquire at your local butcher to get freshly sliced meat.
The more flavorful cousin to sausage, salami is made of ground pork with garlic, herbs, and spices, all wrapped up and left to cure for 40 days. It’s one of the most affordable pieces of charcuterie, and a relative of the pepperoni you’re familiar with from pizza. Absolutely delicious served with a soft, mild cheese.
A tender paste made from any of a variety of meats, paté is a spreadable charcuterie item that’s often heavily seasoned. It’s meant to be paired with a piece of nice crusty bread, and perhaps a hunk of hard cheese. Look for small tins or loaves of paté in the chilled section of your grocer’s deli.
Step 2: Pair A Cheese or Two
Cheese and charcuterie is such a classic pairing that it’s hard to imagine one without the other. And while a full explanation of the wide world of cheese is beyond the scope of this article (including building a only cheese board!), it’s actually fairly easy to choose one to add to your simple board.
To make it easy, think of cheeses in three different styles:
- Soft cheeses, like brie or goat cheese, are spreadable but often have strong flavors.
- Semisoft cheeses, like fontina or young gouda, are the most mild and palatable selection for a charcuterie board.
- Hard cheeses, like parmesan and manchego, have a pronounced salty flavor and toothsome texture.
If you’d like just one cheese on your charcuterie board, a semisoft cheese is always a good choice. They pair nicely with just about any cured meat, and are soft enough to be spread on crackers or bread.
But if you’re keen on having two cheeses, try serving both a soft cheese and a hard cheese. Their textures and flavors are complementary, and will add a lovely variety to the finished board.
Step 3: Pickles and Condiments
After you have your meat and cheese picked out, adding a few powerfully flavored condiments will really open up more food pairings. And that’s the real joy of a charcuterie board — getting to mix and match little bites to your heart’s content. So at this point, you’re trying to round out the tastes and flavors available to you on the board.
Anything pickled is always a good addition to a charcuterie board, from classic dill chips to more exotic pickled peppers and other vegetables. That’s because pickles are high in acetic acid, a sour component that can cut through the rich fattiness of meats and cheeses.
Similarly, a strong and pungent condiment like mustard can add a piquant finish to any bite from your board. Go for a stone ground mustard, and maybe pair it with a bit of sweet jam or jelly to keep everything in balance.
Step 4: Fruits, Nuts, and Olives
And now, you’re adding the finishing touches to give a full range of textures in addition to your tastes and flavors.
Bits of dried fruit like dried apricots, cherries, cherry tomatoes, or even simple raisins will provide a chewy texture. A handful of almonds, pistachios, roasted peanuts, or cashews will give a hearty crunch. And cured olives (or pickled onions) will add a pungent, salty taste with a smooth texture. You certainly don’t have to add all of these to your charcuterie board, but it wouldn’t hurt to include whatever you have. You can even get creative with dark chocolate, crunchy veggies, fresh herb and spice, or even fresh fruit. The goal is to contrast flavors and textures – so experiment!
Step 5: Bread!
But just what are you going to eat all of these delicious meats, cheeses, and condiments with? Bread, of course!
A good loaf of bread, sliced into thin rounds or torn off to eat piece by piece, is the classic accompaniment to a charcuterie board. Crustier breads (think sliced baguette) are better, as they provide a textural contrast and a firm place to stack all of your goodies.
But making your own bread is a big task in and of itself, and finding the right bread at your local grocery might not be so easy. If that’s the case, go for the alternative: Crackers. Even a simple pack of saltines will give a nice crunchy carbohydrate to pair with your meats and cheeses, making for a complete and satisfying charcuterie board.
Conclusion: What to Drink With Your Charcuterie Board
Now that you have your perfect charcuterie board put together, what will you pair with it to drink? I’d like to leave you with a few ideas:
- Red wine is a classic Italian or French choice. A glass of pinot noir, chianti, or cabernet will pair beautifully with the rich fattiness of the cheese and cured meats on your board.
- White wine is less commonly paired with charcuterie. But if you go for either a sparkling wine or a bold and acidic still one, it will enliven the entire eating experience with every sip.
- Beer is the traditional German counterpart to a charcuterie board — but not just any beer will do. Go for either a crisp, hoppy pilsner or a dark, malty brew to really bring out the flavors of each ingredient.
Best of luck, and feel free to drop us a line with any questions you might have!