The charcuterie board might just be the perfect non-meal meal. If you've ever only thought of it as the little bites you have before a big meal, let us explain why we love them so much (and we promise it'll change your mind). This isn't merely a board piled with a bunch of meat and cheese. It's the culinary equivalent of those beloved choose-your-own-adventure books from your youth. It's a casual buffet made to be mixed and matched and entirely eaten with your hands in single, satisfying bites. The charcuterie board, in all its louche continental swagger, is the secret to a super chill get-together. There's nothing fussy about it. It's simply a surefire crowd pleaser, meant to be enjoyed in a lazy, unhurried fashion with copious amounts of alcohol.
And while the finished product looks meticulous and stylish, putting a board together is far simpler than we realized. All you have to do is follow a basic checklist and you're done in as little as 15 minutes. Every good board contains the following six must-haves and as long as you pick up all of those, everything falls into place. You slice a sausage or two, put out some cheese and smear a little mustard. Finish it off with a few piles of pickles or nuts and your guests will be impressed without feeling fussed over. Especially during the summer, when get-togethers are easy and no one wants to cook, this is coolest way to step up as the gentlemanly host.
Your Charcuterie Checklist
Pre-sliced cured meats like prosciutto, Coppa ham or smoky speck. These bring a delicate, salty touch and wrap around other items to make delicious pairings. Serve them either in flat rows or grouped together in loose rolls.
Prosciutto Italiano, $7.99 by Di Bruno Bros.
Hard cured sausage
These are easy to grab and add a nice texture, thanks to their satisfying toothsome quality. Options include salami, chorizo and Soppressata. A helpful tip with sausages you'll slice yourself: slice it cold, serve it at room temperature.
French-style salami, $9.99 by Les Trois Petits Cochons
Like your meat, you want some differences in taste and texture when it comes to the cheese on your board. This requires at least two options: one that's smooth and creamy (like brie, camembert or goat) and one that's firmer with a little bite (manchego, Parmigiano-Reggiano or an aged gouda).
Parmigiano-Reggiano, from $9.75 at Gourmet Food World and truffle goat cheese log, $4.99 by Mont Chevre
Many charcuterie boards feature a pâté (a mixture of cooked ground meat and fat minced into a spreadable mousse-like paste). These spread onto bread or crackers, and the smooth richness makes for a nice contrast to the sharper flavors of the meat and cheeses. Often made from pork, rabbit, duck or chicken liver, there are also vegetarian options made from lentils, beans or mushrooms. Or just go with a simple hummus.
Chicken and pork pâté, $7.99 by Les Trois Petits Cochons
There's a lot of savory and salty components on the board, so these not only add variety and contrast, but make for ideal pairings with the meat and cheeses. Figs, freshly sliced melon, quince paste or honey are ideal for crisp white wines and a hot day. For boards served with fuller bodied red wines, you could go with cherries, dried apricots and dark chocolate.
Spanish quince paste, $6.99 at Nuts.com
Crunchy and tart accents
Balance things out with little bites that add some crunch and a little tangy acidity. Crackers, slices of bread or toasts make the perfect staging ground for meat and cheese combinations. Place briny olives in small bowls and smear grainy mustard directly onto the platter. Nestle little piles of pickles and nuts around the board.
Cornichons piquants, $4.49 by LesTrois Petits Cochons and whole grain Dijon mustard, $2.98 by Maille
do I need?
Good question. The general rule is approximately two ounces of meat and cheese per person. These items tend to be rich and with the accents, can be filling. But if you're serving this as a defacto dinner, then up the quantity to five or six ounces per person and make sure you've got plenty of bread to go along with it.
How do you know
what to pair together?
There are no rules. It depends on your particular tastes, but certain pairings go particularly well together. Prosciutto with Parmigiano-Reggiano is great. Even better when drizzled with honey. Mustard is nice with a dry cured sausage. A thin slice of meat wrapped around some fruit and smeared with goat cheese? Fantastic.