Let me start by answering a commonly asked question: what is a charcuterie board? It’s the art of assembling meats and cheeses accompanies by fruit, nuts and crackers for easy and quick hors d'oeuvres.
Cheese and charcuterie boards are an art form that involves much more than throwing some cheeses and crackers on a plate and serving it to guests - it’s more than just a meat and cheese board. While any sane person will still love whatever cheese and crackers you serve, I’m going to help you impress your guests. Trying to narrow down my favorite cheeses is like trying to tell you my all-time favorite television show; there are just so many good choices. With television, sometimes I’m in the mood for a comedy, other times a crime show or drama. The same goes for cheeses; sometimes I need some firm Parmesan and sometimes I need some super creamy Brie. Use my tips to impress your guests with an epic cheese and charcuterie plate at your next gathering.
There is such a wide variety of cheeses out there it can be hard to narrow down my choice to just one. My number one rule when putting together a cheese plate is to offer a variety of styles of cheeses. Try finding a combination of aged, firm, soft, crumbly and creamy cheeses. If you are serving any hard cheeses, cut them into slices ahead of time to make it easier for guests to eat. Offer a variety of types of milk as well; cow, goat, sheep, they all have different tastes and textures. That being said - don’t go too crazy, make sure to serve at least one cheese that people are familiar with. (I don’t always include blue cheese because I feel it can be very polarizing - some people hate it and others love it) For a visually appealing spread, I plate an odd number of cheeses, using either 3 or 5.
Easy cheese combination options:
Aged: Aged Cheddar or aged Gouda
Firm: Parmigiano-Reggiano (I like the crystals in it) or Gruyère
Creamy: Brillat-Savarin (my favorite- it’s a triple cream cheese, very buttery) or La Tur
Crumbly: Chèvre (Goat cheese)
Blue: Gorgonzola or Stilton
"Charcuterie" isn’t just one of my favorite words to say, an assortment of meats goes a long way to complement a selection of cheeses on a charcuterie plate. Larousse Gastronomique, the culinary encyclopedia, defines charcuterie as, “products based on pork meat or offal…The numerous preparations of charcuterie include cured meats, fresh and smoked sausages, pâté, andoullies, andouillettes, black puddings (blood sausage), boudins blancs, sausagemeat, hams, galantines, pâté en croute, ready cooked dishes and foremeats”.
I like pork rillettes because it is easy to spread on bread and tastes great topped with some cracked black pepper and whole grain mustard. It seems fancy but the rustic pâté is pretty much pulled pork stored in its own fat. This is another time to try to mix up the textures. I like to pick something hard like salami, saucisson, or Spanish cured chorizo, thinly sliced on the bias; something soft and rich like a pate or rillettes; and dry cured meats like prosciutto (always prosciutto, it is a fan favorite), soppressata, coppa, or speck.
Easy charcuterie plate combinations:
Something hard: salami
Something soft: pork rillettes
Dry-cured meat: Prosciutto
Breads & Crackers
Breads, crackers, chips, crisps – call it what you want, they are all vehicles to get the cheese to your mouth. I like to put out one to two options for people to decide. While good sturdy crackers are a classic, my personal favorite conveyance for cheese is grilled French bread. It has that smoky flavor from being tossed on the grill (or a grill pan) for a few minutes. Sliced baguettes dipped in olive oil and broiled are perfect for spreading creamy cheeses.
I love the taste of Pecorino Romano with truffle honey; it reminds me of being in Italy. If you don’t want to shell out for truffle, regular honey does just as well. Sweet fig jam pairs nicely with creamy Brie and is sold at most grocery stores. If you are serving meats then add some whole grain mustard and cornichons, (tart little French pickles). Grapes or sliced apples add dimension and color to a plate. Nuts like Marcona almonds are easy to snack on and taste great roasted with olive oil and a bit of salt.
I am not a sommelier but I have had my fair share of wine. Cheese and wine go together like peanut butter and jelly (really well), so my advice is definitely serve with wine. Sorry I can’t offer more on this front.
Tips & Tricks To Assemble Your Charcuterie Board
For aesthetic purposes I love to plate things on rustic wood cheeseboards with pretty silver cheese spreaders. Another good choice is slate because you can write the names of the cheeses in chalk.
You can typically allot 2 ounces of cheese and charcuterie per person when deciding how much to buy.
Cheese is best served at room temperature. Remove cheeses from the fridge about a half hour before serving.
Whole Foods has a great cheese selection and deli counter. Trader Joe’s sells great cheeses on a budget and already packaged meat selections.
Serve a knife for each cheese so flavors don't mingle
A few other examples:
Photos updated 2/9/19.