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The Charcuterie Craze: Entertaining Like a Pro

With the colder weather upon us, the season of holiday gatherings with family and friends is rapidly approaching. What better way to spend our holiday time together than laughing, chatting, and enjoying ourselves over a holiday charcuterie board? Over the past year, you might have noticed the growing craze for all things charcuterie!

Charcuterie is a French term that is derived from the French words flesh (chair) and cooked (cuit). Using these French origins, the word “charcuterie” essentially translates to describe a delicatessen that specializes in cured meats and meat dishes.

In more recent times, charcuterie boards have evolved from not only displaying meat products, but also cheeses, fruits, jams, olives, crackers, nuts, peppers, and pretty much anything you can think of. It’s no wonder charcuterie boards have gained popularity: they’re easy to create and share, fun to put together, and there is no right or wrong way to make one.

Designing a Charcuterie Board

When looking at how to design a charcuterie board, first, you’ll need to think about display, taste, and variety. But before diving into putting together your ingredients for a charcuterie board, first, think about the board itself. There are charcuterie boards displayed on just about anything, from massive pieces of wood to individual plastic cups, and even some displayed right out on the countertop. Feel free to use whatever size, shape, and material you want for your individual board. Some find that a square or rectangular shape is the easiest to use, as it allows you to portion out your display and fill in the gaps.

Once you have selected your board, it’s time to think about taste. Ashley Amendola is the owner and operator of Coven Catery. Ashley specializes in grazing tables, charcuterie boards, and picnic boxes for events in Connecticut.

Ashley shared her expertise on cheese selection for charcuterie boards. She explains, “I always like to make sure that I include a few different textures. At minimum, I like to include one soft cheese (something that is spreadable and can be used with dips or crackers) such as Brie or Camembert. Then one semi-hard cheese, such as Manchego. This is also a nice visual cheese since it’s usually sliced in large slender triangles and shows off its edible rind. Lastly, one hard cheese like an Aged Cheddar or Gouda. These can both be broken up with a cheese knife into messy pieces.”

Once Ashley has her main cheese on her board, she will then add a crumbly cheese if needed, like a Goat Cheese, Blue Cheese, or something more seasonal like a Cinnamon Toscano.

After you have your cheese selected and placed on your board, it is time to move on to charcuterie. Ashley has great advice for these next steps: “I take the same approach here as I do with the cheese,” she notes. “I include an assortment of charcuterie varieties and textures. I always like to include a hard sliceable salami. Right now, my two favorites are Columbus’ Salame Secchi, which has an extremely buttery flavor, and Creminelli’s Wild Boar Salami, which is extremely rich and flavorful. I also like to add a soft and pliable charcuterie, like a Coppa or Prosciutto de Parma.”

The Finishing Touches

Once you have your cheese and charcuterie selected and arranged on your board, it’s time to add some fruits, vegetables, nuts, jams, and crackers to fill in the gaps. You might want to start with fresh strawberries, grapes, raspberries, and blueberries. Feel free to add any fruit, especially dried. You can add apricots, pineapple, figs, cherries, dates, or even some colorful red plums. For vegetables, consider starting with carrots, artichoke hearts, cucumbers, and cornichon pickles. You can place a lot of these fruits and vegetables directly on your board, or grab some of your favorite mini bowls to hold them and move your board items to surround the bowls.

Once your fruits and vegetables are placed around your charcuterie board, you can add the nuts and jams. With nuts, you can keep it simple with pistachios, almonds, peanuts, walnuts and even cashews. Nuts are the perfect way to fill in those extra gaps around your boards, and jams will help to do the same. For the best jams to add onto your board, go for an apricot, fig, or spiced jam of some sort. Also, look for jellies or a compote to add a bit of sweetness to those cheeses and charcuterie. You’ll love the way the jars of jelly and jam look on a board. Feel free to add honey and a wooden honey dipper, too!

Lastly, finish off your charcuterie board with crackers, and use different varieties of shape and taste, here. Triscuits work quite well, both in the original size crackers and the mini. You can use any flavors that they have, though sea salt always adds an extra hint of flavor. You may also want to add crackers that are round, like Ritz or Carr’s Table Water Crackers. Rectangle crackers work well for stacking, fanning out, or angling. For rectangle crackers, look for Club or Firehook’s Rosemary Sea Salt Baked Crackers. If there are still gaps on your board, add dark chocolate pieces, fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme, both green and black olives, and cute cheese knives as well.

Entertaining Made Easy

Whether you’re having a small gathering of family and friends or a larger soiree, everyone is bound to be impressed with your charcuterie board skills, and nobody has to know that these boards are so much simpler to put together than what the visual result indicates.

Here’s another pro tip for you: If you don’t want your guests hovering over the board for too long, add toothpicks and small serving spoons with more pre-sliced cheese and charcuterie. You can also add little flags to help your guests identify your selection as well.

Charcuterie boards make entertaining easy, fun, and they also bring a little bit of elegance and sophistication to your table. Be warned – you’ll be hooked from your first board, and once you get the hang of putting one together, the sky’s the limit on where charcuterie can take you.