Want to wow your friends? Impress your neighbors? Inspire your Facebook and instagram followers? Feel like you can’t “cook” but still want to do something more than order pizza when your family comes over? I have just the thing for you!
First, don’t be intimidated by the word charcuterie (pronouced ‘shahr-ku-tuh-ree’). It really just means “cold, cured meats”, though it has come to also mean the artful arranging of cured meats, cheeses and other accompanying foods. You can just as correctly call this a ‘grazing board’ or merely say ‘meat and cheese platter’, if you prefer.
Second, there really aren’t any rules, so don’t stress over it. There are some tips and guidelines I am going to share with you, but you can take them or leave them. Your board, your decision. If you think it’s beautiful and the foods you choose are ones you will happy nosh away on, then you’ve succeeded.
- Decide upon a selection of varying flavors and textures that compliment one another
- Meats – salami, proscuitto, pepperoni, ham, etc.
- Cheeses – an assortment of hard and soft cheeses, slice the hard cheeses partially and leave a portion of the whole brick for display.
- Hard: parmesean, smoked gouda, sharp cheddar
- Soft: Boursin’s garlic and herb gournay, Gorgonzola, brie, goat cheese
- Veggies – carrots, cucumber, sliced peppers, celery, fresh green beans, snow peas, endive, raddichio, cherry tomatoes (think COLOR)
- Pickles – I always include something that will add a briney element, pickles, capers, pickled okra, olives, etc.
- Dried goods – I love to use okra chips, dried fruits (cranberries, rasins)
- Nuts – whatever you like! Pistachios are my favorite. These are great for filling in litle empty spaces in your board. Just pile them in there.
- Fruit – sliced apples, pears, figs, dates, grapes
- Spreads – you will want some that are sweet, like fig preserves or honey, and some that are savory, mustards are my go-to. Hummus works really well, too.
- Crackers, pita bread, or toasted, sliced baguette (or a combination)
- Choose a board that works for your event or evening. It doesn’t have to be fancy – one of the ones I’ll show you later is just a large piece of wood covered with contact paper.
- Your board should be just large enough that you can completely fill it up. No empty spaces.
- Pick out bowls or ramekins for the spreads that will fit on the board itself. You can put some of these beside the board instead in a pinch, but in most cases, I like to include them directly on the board.
- Think about adding some height. Rather than everything being the same level, I like to use a couple of jars that stand up a little higher and put the okra chips or green beans in those for even more visual interest.
- Garnish. Add a few springs of rosemary or some parsley to the board.
- Keep things you like on hand. The dried items like chips, breads, etc., will keep in the pantry and I always have some various cheeses and meats in the refrigerator. This makes it easy to throw together an impromptu board if you have last minute guests!
Below are several examples of boards I’ve done over the last year. As you can see, some were very elaborate and huge, others were much smaller and made much more quickly.
I enjoy supplementing the board with other items, depending on the nature of the event. Hummus varieties, onion dips, baked brie, spinach dip, lemon-thyme veggie dip, deviled eggs. You will see some of this in the photos, as well.
If you do want to add some homemade elements to the spread, here are some of my go-to, easy, favorites.
Lemon-Thyme Veggie Dip
- Zest and half one large lemon
- Remove the leaves from a large bunch of thyme and run your knife through them to slightly chop (you want about 3 tablespoons of leaves, plus a sprig or two to garnish)
- Mix one cup of mayo and one cup of sour cream or plain yogurt
- Combine the lemon zest, juice of half the lemon and the thyme
- Salt and pepper
- Taste and add more lemon juice and S&P to taste
- Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving
- Saute up 3 minced garlic cloves and one medium shallot
- When soft, add two pakages of pre-washed baby spinach and wilt down
- Season with salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flakes and fresh grated nutmeg
- If your spinach seems very wet, remove it from the pan and drain or squeeze out in a clean kitchen towel. Otherwise, procced to the next step.
- Stir in 4 ounces of cream cheese, 1/2 cup of grated parmesean and 1/2 cup of grated mozzarella. You can also add some sour cream or increase the cream cheese if you like it creamier.
- Melt it all together
- Once combined move the mixture to a glass bowl or dish and refrigerate till you are ready to serve. Give it at least an hour for the flavors to combine and it to fully set and cool.
- In a saute pan over medium heat, warm up 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then add 1 1/2 cups diced or sliced onions. Cook until they are carmelized. If browning too fast, reduce the heat.
- Set onions aside to cool.
- Mix 1 1/2 cups of sour cream, 3/4 cup of mayo, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 tsp pepper, salt to taste
- Add the onions once cooled completely
- Refrigerate for 20 – 30 minutes and stir again before serving
- You’ll want a wheel of brie, rather than a wedge. French preferably. 13 oz is a good size. Place in a small iron skillet or other oven safe dish.
- Preheat oven to 375
- Microwave together about 1 1/2 tbsps of fig jam or honey and 1/4 cup dried figs or dates and 1/4 cup shelled, chopped pistachios. Only needs 30 seconds. Stir to combine well.
- Spread a thin layer of jam or honey on top of the brie and then pile on the microwaved mixture
- Place skillet on a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes
- Let brie sit for 5 minutes before serving
“Top your own” Deviled Eggs
- Bring a pot of water to boil. Add however many eggs you want to prepare. Then lower the heat so water is at a low boil. Let the eggs boil for 10 – 12 minutes. 10 will give you creamier yolks.
- Get a bowl of ice water ready. When the eggs are finished boiling, carefully remove them from the pot and place in the ice water. This will cool them down fast and make them easier to peel.
- Peel the eggs. Half them and remove the yolks. Put the yolks in a bowl or into your food processor. Place the whites on a cookie sheet.
- Mix up the yolks with about 1/4 cup (for every 6 eggs) of any combo of mayo, sour cream, plain yogurt.
- Mix in something spicy – mustard, hot sauce, etc.
- Mix in something tart – try lemon juice, white vinegar, rice vinegar, pickle juice
- Mix in some salt – in place of just salt, you could use anchovy paste, fish sauce, or something else salty
- Mix in your food processor till smooth. Taste and adjust as needed.
- Put your filling in a plastic food storage bag, snip off one corner and use this to pipe the filling into the egg whites.
- Refrigerate while you prepare toppings
- Optional toppings:
- Thinly sliced jalapeno
- Bacon, procuitto or pancetta (crisped up)
- Roasted red pepper, chopped small
- chives or green onions, sliced very thinly
- Any fresh herbs: parsley, thyme, cilantro, taragon
- Spices: paprika is a classic, try the smoked variety
- Finishing salt
- For this I like to put all the toppings in small bowls with the tray of eggs and allow my guests to top their own. I top up a few “examples” with various combinations of the toppings and then each person can “top their own eggs”.
I would love to see photos and hear stories about your own charcuterie adventures! Please send me yours here or on Instagram! (Or invite me over!)
Happy Entertaining! 🙂
One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.Luciano Pavarotti