California produce is simply made for healthy entertaining. And what better way to celebrate this delicious bounty than with a charcuterie board? Friends, family, kids – no one can resist this delightful finger food.
First, a little history. Where did charcuterie come from? (And, um… how do you say it?)
A Brief History of Charcuterie
The correct way to pronounce charcuterie is shahr-ku-tuh-ree. A word of French origin, charcuterie is a culinary term that refers to the art of cooking, processing, or curing cold meats, typically pork. Examples include prosciutto, pancetta, salami, and pâtés. In French culture, charcuterie can also mean delicatessen, or more specifically, pork butcher shop.
Charcuterie began in 15th Century France before refrigeration. The pork was processed, cooked, and cured to preserve it for as long as possible. The charcutier or butcher would utilize every part of the pig from head to tail, including the organs. Over time, different animals were used to practice the culinary art of charcuterie.
Imagine stepping into a charcuterie or French delicatessen and seeing an impressive display of dressed meats, meat dishes, and a selection of tasty accompaniments, like cheese and bread. Modern-day charcuterie is much like that French delicatessen but on a much smaller scale. It is the art of creating a visually pleasing assortment of meats paired with delicious accouterments and presenting it on a cutting board or platter. This revolutionized version of charcuterie has become popular in many countries outside France and is currently trending here in the United States.
Why is Charcuterie So Popular?
A charcuterie board is a stylish way to feed and entertain your guests. One of the reasons charcuterie boards have become so popular in recent years is because no cooking is required – you buy the items and assemble them onto your board. A classic charcuterie board consists of meats, cheeses, bread, crackers, jams, fresh or dried fruit, nuts, and pickled veggies. However, charcuterie boards are versatile, and there are no rules, so you can customize your board in any way you want.
Charcuterie boards are all about the presentation. Creatively incorporating a few varieties of each food will result in an exciting assortment of colors, textures, and flavors. Serving a charcuterie board is ideal any time of year and a welcome addition at any gathering. Whether at a summer picnic or bbq, a football game or happy hour, an elaborate holiday party, or just a fun alternative for dinner, charcuterie boards please everyone with little effort.
Charcuterie Board Accessories
You can arrange your food on a cutting board, platter, sheet pan, or a large piece of butcher paper laid upon your table or counter. Several plates and bowls work just as well too. If using a board, platter, or sheet pan, select one appropriately sized for the number of guests you’ll be feeding. To avoid stains on your cutting board, lay a piece of parchment paper down before arranging the food to protect the surface. For sheet pans, lay parchment paper down as a barrier between the food and metal.
You’ll need a few small bowls for sauces, olives, or nuts, and don’t forget individual serving spoons for each bowl. It’s best to have a dedicated knife for each type of cheese to avoid mixing the flavors. If you have a cheese knife set, this is the time to use it. Small tongs are handy for meats and cheeses, but regular salad forks will do. There’s no need to buy new accessories. Look around your kitchen and improvise with what you have.
Classic Charcuterie Board Ingredients
The main staples in a classic charcuterie board are meats and cheeses, but the beautiful thing about charcuterie is you can make it as contemporary as you want. Of course, the ingredients you choose will depend upon dietary restrictions, the number of guests you’re serving, and your budget. Trader Joe’s, Aldi, and Costco are good places to buy budget-friendly, classic-style charcuterie board ingredients. We’ve listed some classic ingredients below to help get your creative juices flowing.
Cheese – Choose cheeses based on their texture and flavors. Consider a combination of smoked, sharp, and mild flavors or hard, soft, or crumbled textures. You can also incorporate cheeses made from sheep or goat milk if you have lactose intolerant guests. For small boards, we recommend three types of cheese. Buy what you like and look for what’s on sale.
Meats – Most deli meat works well. Affordable and tasty options include salami, deli ham, and pepperoni. This combination also has a variety of flavors. Check the deli for sales and look for sample packs, which offer a variety of meat for less money. We recommend having one type of meat for each cheese.
Fruits – Fresh fruits are a must-have for charcuterie. They add a touch of sweetness and color to your board. Grapes not only look beautiful, but they are also a delightful treat. Strawberries are another luscious choice. Look for seasonal fruit to get the best deals. Don’t forget about dried fruits like apricots, figs, and prunes.
Extras – Fill in your board with flavorful extras like pepperoncini peppers, olives, baby gherkins, or marinated mushrooms. Dry-roasted peanuts or pistachios are a nice textural element that is also budget-friendly. A sliced baguette and a box of assorted crackers add variety and visual appeal. Don’t forget the spreads and sauces. Stone ground mustard, jam, or honey are affordable choices. Check your fridge and pantry and utilize any tasty extras that you may already have.
Assembling Your Charcuterie Board
Here are a few tips for assembling an Instagram-worthy charcuterie board.
Start by placing the bowls and spacing them on opposite ends of your board. Next, portion the cheese into cubes, triangles, or slices to add visual contrast, and place it in various places on your board. Then, add your meat. Roll deli meat or fold it into quarters, stagger pepperoni into rows, and fold salami in half, placing each one next to the cheese it pairs best with. Distribute the baguette slices and crackers close to the meat and cheese. Now it’s time to fill in the gaps with your tasty extras.
As impressive as charcuterie boards look, they are surprisingly inexpensive and easy to make. They are also fun to assemble and taste good too.
Ready to create your charcuterie board? We’d love to see your tasty creations. Be sure to load up your board with plenty of grapes, snap a picture and tag us on Instagram @jasminevineyards.