So, what do you do when you don’t know what to cook? Don’t cook. Yes, I said it: This is a post on my food blog that’s advocating not to cook. No recipe, no pots and pans, no hot stovetop, and no fuss. This Charcuterie Board will change the way you think about entertaining with friends and family. With an array of meats, cheeses, pickles, crackers, breads, and condiments, all it takes is a little creativity to make a culinary centerpiece that will amaze your guests.
First things first, charcuterie (shar-cute-uh-ree) is a French term that means dry-cured specialty meats and is at the center of platters that are filled with complimenting foods. A well-made Charcuterie Board takes planning–lots of it. You must have the right foundation to build this spread. If you can find an extra large (mine is 24 x 36 inches) cutting board to purchase, then you’re in luck. The older, the better: look for them at flea markets and collectible shops. I’ve seen antique wooden doors that have been repurposed, and the pine or cypress finish is perfect for your Charcuterie Board. You can even go to your local lumber supplier and have them cut a sturdy board to size. All it takes is a quick cleaning, sanding, and sealing with a food-safe stain finish. It’s really quite easy.
The fun part is planning your layout and sourcing just the right mix of complimenting foods. Determine the theme of your Charcuterie Board and brainstorm an array of ingredients that work together. For instance, my layout focuses on Mediterranean flavors with Italian salami, soppressata, and prosciutto anchoring the meats. Pickles and cornichons along with blue cheese from the South of France, Spanish ham and olives, and a Greek eggplant and roasted red pepper bruschetta spread add contrasting flavors with a piquant punch.
Don’t break the bank; you’ll be surprised at where you can find these foods. Source fresh artisan-made ingredients from food purveyors at your local farmers markets. Walk the specialty food aisles of stores like World Market, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and even Big Lots where you can find a treasure trove of low-priced options. Find your local ethnic stores that focus on Latin, Middle Eastern, or Asian foods. Check out the deli counter of your local groceries, and be sure to head to both the salad bar and the specialty olive bar that are great ways to buy smaller quantities of creative ingredients. And find interesting little dishes, serving utensils, candles, and napkins that add texture and contrast with a bit of whimsy. Rox and I like to browse the housewares sections and thrift stores to find those one-of-a-kind pieces–the quirkier, the better.
On the day of your party, have a plan: Spread out the meats and cheeses, and put the condiments next to the foods that they go with. Have bread and crackers in baskets lined with colorful napkins, and add fresh herbs (rosemary and basil are my favorites) in little vases for the aroma and a touch of freshness. Wine and beer go great with the spice and flavors of a Charcuterie Board, so add your favorite international wines or craft beers.
Instead of slaving over a hot stove for a dinner party that will deplete your energy and your bank account, take my cue and get creative with a Charcuterie Board.
- 1 jar cornichon (gherkin) pickles
- 1 jar green olives
- 1 jar pickled okra
- 1 jar pickled green tomatoes
- 1 small container black pitted olives
- 1 cup pickled cipollini onions
- 1 jar pickled Peppadew sweet piquanté peppers
- 1 package or ½ pound sliced soppressata
- 1 pound deli-sliced roast beef
- 1 package Italian prosciutto
- 1 package rolled peppered salami
- 1 (2-pound) ham
- 1 container pimento cheese
- 1 jar olive tapenade
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 cup whole grain mustard
- 1 tub European butter
- 1 jar roasted red pepper bruschetta
- 1 round of brie cheese
- 1 block of blue cheese (Roquefort or Gorgonzola)
- 1 log of goat cheese
- 1 block of cheddar cheese
- 1 box sesame-seed breadsticks
- 2 boxes of quality crackers
- 1 baguette loaf, sliced into small rounds and toasted
- 1 loaf whole grain artisan bead, sliced
- 2 large tomatoes with stems attached
- 1 container red cherry tomatoes
- 1 cup blackberries
- 1 cup dark cherries
- 1 bunch seedless red or black grapes
- 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- 1 bunch of fresh basil
- Find the center of your board and place the tallest items (vase of basil; jar of breadsticks}, so they are out of the way of reaching hands and arms.
- Place the meats and cheeses in the corners and along the edges to make them easy to reach from any directions and to differentiate them. And they should already have slices started with a small knife positioned nearby.
- Place small ramekins of spreads in different quadrants of your board.
- Crackers should be grouped in the spaces adjoining items that require them.
- The board should be crowded but easy to navigate. Every item that isn’t picked up with the fingers should have an accompanying spoon, fork, or spreader alongside.
- Fill empty spaces with accents like colorful napkins, grapes or berries, ripe tomatoes, and fresh herbs.
- For bread, line baskets with fabrics and napkins with bold colors (crimson red, mustard yellow, and olive green are good) to provide richness.
- Choose international beverages (wine, beer, soda, and tea) that compliment the foods and bring cultural interest to the table.
- The most important point: Use my directions only as a starting point. Get creative; have fun. Make your Charcuterie Board an expression of your taste by selecting the tastiest ingredients you can find.