Everything old is new again, at least when it comes to food! The recent revival of the French culinary tradition of charcuterie has transformed drab cheese boards into edible art.
While it may seem challenging to put together a social media-worthy charcuterie board, it’s actually pretty simple. All you need to get started is a general understanding of food pairings and an artistic vision.
What Is a Charcuterie Board?
Charcuterie — pronounced “shar-coo-tree” — is a French word that refers to traditional 15th-century methods of preserving meat. In its modern form, it’s a culinary art that foodies have most recently revived on social media.
A charcuterie board typically contains a beautifully arranged assortment of meats, cheeses, nuts and fruits. You’ll also often see bread or crackers to place the food on, along with jams, butters or other spreads. While it’s a popular appetizer at restaurants, you can also make your own charcuterie board at home!
What Could Go on a Charcuterie Board?
The main challenge of charcuterie is deciding which items to put on your board. The following are some of the most common foods for charcuterie boards.
The meats and cheeses are the two most important parts of any charcuterie board. Not sure which meats to include on your board? As a general rule of thumb, use as much variety in texture and flavor as possible. Feel free to mix spicy, salty, dry and soft to keep things interesting for your guests.
A farmers market or specialty meat and cheese shop should be your first stop if you have one near you. They can also help you choose which meats and cheeses to pair with each other.
Some of the best meats for a charcuterie board include:
- Prosciutto: Prosciutto is a mainstay of charcuterie boards. Its salty flavor and delicate texture pair well with aged cheeses and sweet fruits. You can fold prosciutto into rosettes, cut it into ribbons or present it as plain sheets.
- Salami: Salami is a hard pork sausage seasoned with Italian spices and a splash of red wine. Dry salami is the best type for charcuterie boards because it keeps well at room temperature. Serve it sliced into small coins or ribbons for easy layering.
- Bresaola: Leaner and milder than prosciutto, bresaola is salty with a hint of spice. It’s usually preserved whole and seasoned with black pepper, juniper, garlic and cloves.
- Chorizo: Chorizo is a Spanish pork sausage seasoned with smoked paprika. This hard, bright-red meat can be sweet or smoky depending on its spice blend. Some excellent pairings for chorizo include olives, Manchego cheese and goat cheese.
- Pâté: Savory and smooth, pâté is a seasoned ground meat mixture that’s perfect for spreading on toast or crackers. You can find it at specialty meat shops or in the deli area of many grocery stores.
Like the meats, you’ll want to provide an assortment of flavors and textures in your cheeses. Mix and match aged, soft, blue and firm cheeses to delight your guests’ palates.
Here are some of the best cheeses for a charcuterie board:
- Brie: Named after its homeland, the Brie region of France, this soft cheese has a creamy body and a buttery flavor. It’s a versatile cheese that goes well with both bold meats and sweet jams. And yes, you can eat the rind!
- Manchego: A Spanish cheese from La Mancha, Manchego is a semi-hard cheese known for its sweet, nutty flavor. It’s somewhat similar to Asiago and Pecorino Romano and goes well with honey, nuts and fresh fruit.
- Gouda: Pronounced “how-duh,” this semi-hard Dutch cheese is a staple on any cheese board. It has a mild, sweet taste that pairs well with fruits and soft meats. You can find many different kinds at the grocery store, including smoky, truffle and even chipotle spice.
- Aged cheddar: Sharp, firm and nutty, a high-quality aged cheddar pairs well with sweet fruit such as peaches, apples and grapes. You can choose from white or yellow cheddar to provide a nice pop of color.
- Gorgonzola: A strong blue mold cheese from Italy, Gorgonzola’s marbled appearance makes it a striking addition to your charcuterie board. Its rich, slightly acidic flavor makes it an excellent partner for sweet foods like fresh peaches and honey.
- Goat cheese: Goat cheese is creamy and slightly tangy, making it an incredibly versatile cheese. You can use plain goat cheese or mix things up with flavors like blueberry, garlic and herb or even honey vanilla. It’s also lactose-free, making it a good alternative for those with dietary restrictions.
You can find many of the dairy cheeses above, such as Gouda and Brie, made with goat milk to accommodate those avoiding lactose.
When choosing the nuts for your board, think about which cheeses you’re using. Choose nuts that complement the cheeses already on your list for the best match.
Here are the best nuts for a charcuterie board:
- Pecans: Pecans are a must-have on any cheese board. Their subtle, all-natural sweetness complements any kind of cheese, especially saltier varieties. Choose plain, shelled pecans for a classic board or add spiced or candied pecans for a unique treat.
- Almonds: With a mild, slightly sweet flavor and sharp crunch, almonds go beautifully with Swiss, brie and cheddar.
- Cashews: Creamy and buttery, cashews pair well with the tanginess of goat cheese and blue cheese.
- Walnuts: These dry, earthy nuts are excellent counterparts for sharper cheeses like aged cheddar or Gorgonzola.
- Pistachios: Salted or plain pistachios pair well with most cheeses due to their neutral taste. Cracking their shells also gives your guests something to do while snacking.
How many types of nuts you should use depends on how big your board is. In general, the more people you’re feeding, the more variety you should add. Start with two or three types for a small board and raise the number from there.
Fresh fruits brighten up your board and present a sweet contrast to its smoky, salty flavors. They also add to the board’s aesthetics, providing pretty pops of color against the meats and cheeses.
Some of our favorite fresh charcuterie fruits include:
- Peaches: Juicy and sweet, fresh-sliced Georgia peaches are one of the best fruits for charcuterie boards. They go well with almost any meat, including prosciutto, bresaola and jamón. In terms of cheeses, peaches go best with soft blue cheese and burrata.
- Apples: Sweet and crunchy, apples are a highly versatile fruit. Tart apples like Granny Smith or Pink Lady go well with sharp cheddar and salty prosciutto. Sweeter apples like Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp or Gala are best with creamy brie and sweet fruit jams.
- Grapes: Grapes of any color are a must-have on most charcuterie boards. In addition to providing a visually striking focal piece, their sweet snap pairs well with most meats and cheeses.
- Pears: Sliced ripe pears are super sweet and soft, perfect for pairing with salty prosciutto and bresaola. They also go well with creamy cheeses like goat cheese, brie and cheddar.
You can balance the brightness of fresh fruit by adding some dried options, such as:
- Dates and figs: Sweet and soft, Medjool dates and Mission figs pair well with tangy goat cheese and sweet Manchego.
- Apricots: Moist, chewy dried apricots are wonderful pairings for aged Gouda, Gorgonzola and most cured meats.
- Sun-dried tomatoes: For something a little different, add some sun-dried tomatoes. They provide a bright, sweet burst of flavor that tastes great with most savory cheeses and meats.
Layering spreads with your cheeses and meats lets you create a full-flavor bite. For example, try combining a piece of prosciutto, some brie and a little peach jam on a cracker for a salty-sweet taste. Some spreads you might use include:
- Jams: Jellies, jams and fruit preserves are excellent for layering on crackers with soft cheeses. There are dozens of options to choose from to match the flavor profile of your board. For example, you could select peach jam as your universal flavor and strawberry pepper jelly to add a little heat.
- Fruit butter: Fruit butter is a smooth, slow-cooked spread that layers well with cheeses and breads. Apple butter is a classic, but we also recommend peach butter for the sweet taste of summer sunshine.
- Hummus: Creamy hummus adds an earthy, savory balance to fruit and jam. You can find many available flavors, from classic to roasted red pepper to everything bagel.
- Honey: Drizzling honey over crackers and fruit adds a sweet finish to the flavor. Agave nectar or date syrup are great vegan alternatives.
Breads and Crackers
Bread plays a supporting role in a charcuterie board by transporting the toppings to your mouth, so it’s best to keep it simple. Start with one or two options and add more if necessary.
Opt for crusty, thick bread that’s strong enough to hold several toppings at once. A simple baguette is a charcuterie staple, but you could also use light rye, ciabatta or sourdough. You can serve your bread toasted or fresh, depending on your preference.
The same goes for crackers and chips. Water crackers have a neutral flavor and a satisfying crunch, making them ideal for bold cheeses and meats. Pita chips are also quite neutral and excellent for dipping in hummus, jam and soft cheese. Ritz crackers’ buttery, flaky texture is another good pairing for charcuterie boards.
Gluten-free breads and crackers are also available at most grocery stores in the natural living aisle. Look for ingredients with fairly neutral flavors, such as sweet potato, rice and cauliflower.
How to Assemble A Charcuterie Board
Once you’ve decided on all the foods you’re using, you’ll need to get everything together on the board. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Board: Of course, you’ll need a board to hold everything. Any cutting board will do, but if you really want to impress, choose one made from wood, slate, granite or marble.
- Ramekins: Fill these small dishes with your spreads or loose items like bread slices, crackers, small nuts and berries.
- Utensils: Cheese knives, serving spoons and tongs will help your guests serve themselves without touching anyone else’s food.
- Serving bowls or plates: Make sure everyone has something to eat from! Decorative bowls or plates with enough room for several crackers are must-haves.
Next, assemble everything on the board. You can arrange items in any order you like. If you’re unsure where to start, though, here’s a quick step-by-step guide:
- Ramekins: Start by placing your filled ramekins on the board, leaving plenty of space between each one.
- Cheeses: Add one or two cheeses next to each ramekin. Think about which cheese goes best with each topping to guide your guests toward each pairing.
- Fruits: Slice or chop your fresh fruits and place them next to the cheeses. Again, consider pairings and place each fruit near its best match.
- Meats: Fold or slice your meats and place them around the fruit. Thin meats like prosciutto allow you to create elaborate shapes like rolls and roses. However, feel free to leave them as slices if you’d rather keep things simple.
- Extras: Fill the remaining space with loose items such as large nuts and dried fruits. You can also place fresh herbs or edible flowers on top as decoration.
Once you’re satisfied with the arrangement, it’s time to dig in. Charcuterie boards also store well in the fridge, making them great make-ahead appetizers.
Charcuterie Board Ideas
We’ve gone over the classic board ingredients, but there’s a world of possibilities when it comes to charcuterie. Here are some alternative ideas for boards that are just as sure to wow your guests or stun your social media feed.
Who said charcuterie was limited to later in the day? Get your friends together for a mouth-watering brunch charcuterie board at your place. You can keep most of the ingredients the same and add more breakfast-typical foods.
For example, in addition to fresh sliced peaches, pecans and jam, you could add:
- Soft-boiled eggs
- Smoked salmon
- Avocado toast
- Fresh oranges
- Cream cheese
- Pancake syrup
For beverages, serve fresh-squeezed orange juice, coffee, tea or mimosas.
Dessert Charcuterie Board
Follow your savory board with a sweet version. Keep the fruit, nuts and sweet spreads and swap out the meats, savory cheeses and crackers for sweets and candy such as:
- Chocolate-covered berries
- Shortbread cookies
- Graham crackers
- Dark chocolates
- Candied pecans
- Soft caramels
You can also experiment with dessert spreads such as chocolate ganache, Nutella, cookie butter, caramel sauce or even chocolate hummus. Pair your board with sweet wines or liquors such as Riesling, Limoncello, Prosecco, Pinot Noir or champagne for a delicious end to the party.
Vegan Charcuterie Board
You can also make charcuterie boards with vegan alternatives for meat and cheese. With the popularity of veganism and vegetarianism on the rise, you can find plant-based versions of many charcuterie items at most grocery and health food stores. Or, if you have the time, you can make many substitutes at home.
Feel free to keep the fruit, breads and nuts the same, swapping out the meats and cheeses for vegan substitutes. Some options might include:
- Cashew cheese
- Smoked or baked tofu cubes
- Vegan sausage or pepperoni
- Plant-based deli meats
- Vegan feta
- Tofu ricotta
You’ll also want to make sure your spreads are free of eggs or dairy. Plain hummus is always a safe and easily accessible choice. You could also use mushroom pâté, spinach and artichoke dip or vegan onion dip.
Fill Your Charcuterie Board With Nuts and Fruit From Lane Southern Orchards
Whether you’re hosting a party, posting to your Instagram feed or just trying something new, charcuterie is a wonderful pastime. And the best charcuterie boards start with the freshest ingredients. From impossibly smooth peach butter to all-natural Georgia pecans, we’ve got tasty treats for every charcuterie enthusiast. Browse our online shop for appetizing inspiration.