Gather Round the Charcuterie Board

What began as strictly meat-centric has become a host’s favorite way to serve cheese, veggies and dessert, too.

Jwh 5587Just the sound of the word  “charcuterie” implies something complicated. But it really isn’t! The French term refers to cooked or cured pork products like terrines, pâtés, ham, sausage and bacon. The term was coined in the 15th century in butcher shops specializing in the preparation of cooked pork.

Today, serving cured meat products has evolved into an array of classy-looking charcuterie boards, a canvas if you will, where edible works of art are arranged on wooden boards. In current parlance, the term has evolved to include foods beyond cured meat, like cheese, fruit and vegetables.

For many, charcuterie has become the answer to easy entertaining, and it is a popular restaurant item for sharing at the table. For entertaining at home, charcuterie boards are often the main course.

Creating one can be a lot of fun. Start with an attractive wooden board or display platter large enough for the number of guests you’re hosting. Platters are great for cured and cooked meats, but for cheeses, go with wood if possible; it makes slicing into different-textured cheeses easier. Think about arranging the food so that it is not one dimensional. Try rolling ham slices into thin cylinders, folding salami into triangles, threading chorizo coins on toothpicks, and snaking thin slices of prosciutto down the middle of the board. Add some height with breadsticks or crackers in different shapes and flavors piled high in a container. Cornichons—tiny crisp and pickled cucumbers—are a mainstay of charcuterie boards, as are grainy mustards.

Other interpretations of this popular arrangement of food could be a cheese board with mild to assertive cheeses accompanied by marmalades, dried fruits, olives, interesting breads like focaccia and herb sprigs for accent. Hollowed-out vegetables like eggplant and peppers can serve as containers for cheese, olives and cherry tomatoes.

If you don’t want to put out a behemoth display of meats and/or cheeses, think “jarcuterie,” which became a clever idea during the pandemic. Each guest gets their own mini version of any and everything, from cured meats and cheeses to olives and raw vegetables, all snugly arranged in small jars or glasses.

Dessert boards are nothing new, but how they are displayed can be. Go for a variety of color. For instance, a cantaloupe melon cut in half and placed cut side down can be an attractive and functional placeholder for skewered fruit. Sugar-frosted grapes, poached pears, filled strawberries, dates stuffed with cheese and nuts, figs and an assortment of dried fruits are some options for sweet endings. For interest, add cookies, nuts and even chocolates.

Serving a board—charcuterie or otherwise—offers something for everyone and showcases the host’s personal style.

Jwh 5601Jarcuterie 

Here is a novel idea—and a real conversation starter—for serving an appetizer before the main course. Start with individual miniature assortments of meats, cheeses and vegetables artfully cut up into bite-size pieces and arranged in half-pint jars or glasses. Some foods to consider are mini cheeses like pearl mozzarella balls, Baby Bel cheese, cubes of cheddar and Swiss cheese, chickpeas, radishes, small celery sticks, asparagus spears, carrot sticks, English peas, tiny cucumber coins, cherry tomatoes and marinated artichoke hearts. Spread a couple of tablespoons of your favorite aioli sauce in the base of the jar before arranging the vegetables.

Lemon Aioli Sauce

2 egg yolks at room temperature
1 large garlic clove, minced
½ cup minced parsley
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 anchovy fillets in olive oil, mashed with a fork
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
1 teaspoon white pepper
Salt to taste

  1. In a food processor or blender, pulse the egg yolks and garlic.
  2. Add the parsley, lemon zest and juice, and pulse a few times to combine everything.
  3. Add the anchovy fillets and pulse a few times.
  4. Slowly dribble in the remaining oil until the sauce is the consistency of mayonnaise.
  5. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the vinegar and pepper. If the sauce seems too thick, mix in a few drops of water.
  6. Add salt to taste.
  7. Serve at room temperature.
  8. Refrigerate any unused aioli.

Jwh 5608Create a Cheese Board

Cheese boards have an elegance about them and often bring together new taste discoveries from around the world. Plan on one to two ounces of each cheese per person. As an example, for 10 people choose at least five different cheeses with a variety of textures and tastes, from mild to assertive.

Soft cheeses could include Brie, Fontina, goat and mozzarella. Avoid cheese that is too crumbly or runny, like burrata and feta. Semi-hard cheeses could include Comté, Kasseri, Gorgonzola Dolce and Queso Manchego. For hard cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, aged cheddar, Pecorino Romano with peppercorns and Gouda all play well together.

Arrange the cheeses attractively on the board at least one hour before serving, so they are at room temperature when your guests arrive.

Wine jellies and marmalades, dried and fresh fruits, nuts, crackers, olives, grapes and vegetable spreads can pull a cheese board together nicely.

Cheese Charcuterie with Marmalade

During the summer, I make tomato marmalade to pair with cheese. Fig, apricot and orange marmalades are also great with both soft and hard cheeses.

Tomato Marmalade

Makes 1 pint

6 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1 small onion or large shallot, peeled and studded with 8 whole cloves
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 (6-inch) piece cinnamon stick
¼ teaspoon fresh ground ginger
Bay leaf

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a large pot.
  2. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and stir to combine everything well.
  3. Cook over low heat, uncovered, for about 45 minutes, or until it is thick and spreadable.
  4. Discard the onion, cinnamon stick and bay leaf.
  5. Ladle the jam into a pint-size jar, cap and refrigerate for up to one month, or freeze for up to one year.


Categories: Food & Recipes