The Art of Charcuterie

Author: Oona Sapunor-Pfaff

Anyone who knows me, knows my profound love for charcuterie and the necessary accompaniment of delicious cheeses, fruits, bread, pickled vegetables, and frankly whatever else sounds good. I think my love of these gorgeous displays of snacks started as a kid. I clearly remember my mom putting together plates of cheese, crackers, pickles, salami, and little dollops of mustard on a plate and letting us create little bites of goodness. I also remember my complete obsession with picking out Lunchables as a young child for “special occasions” to take in my school lunch. The idea of having a variety of snacks served on a tray in their own little compartments blew my mind! Needless to say, I have graduated into a more sophisticated version of my childhood lunchables. 

Charcuterie is a French term used to describe the preparation and preservation of meat products (typically pork)  before we had the ability to refrigerate food products. In order to make sure that food didn’t go bad, a “charcutier” would prepare cooked and cured meats to serve and sell to their patrons at the butcher shop. 

Over time, this term has become synonymous with beautiful and mouth-watering displays of art, and I for one am a HUGE fan! While some may think the charcuterie board undertaking is intimidating and expensive, it doesn’t have to be! Here are a few of my fail proof ways to get you well on your way to becoming your own master of charcuterie among your friends and family.

The Art of Charcuterier

Step 1: Choose your method for displaying. Oversized cutting board, vintage plater, serving tray…the possibilities are endless. Get creative! Do however consider the size and strength of your display. The last thing you want is to run out of space or for it to be so heavy you can’t move it.

Step 2: Select your meats. Some of my go-to favorites include salami, prosciutto, mortadella, pate, rillettes, and dry-cured chorizo. Variety is key and so is price. If your building your charcuterie on a budget, go with salami where you get more bang for your buck. Another idea if you want a good variety, but not necessarily a large pre packaged amount, is to go to your local butcher or deli counter at the grocery store and ask them to slice you a specific amount. 

Step 3: CHEESE! One of my favorite things in life. In my opinion there is no bad cheese, but I recommend including at least three different types on your board. Try to go for different flavors and textures that will enhance the other elements on the board. A variety of soft and hard cheeses like brie, smoked gouda, havarti, blue cheese, manchego, and goat cheese are all delicious options and found in most grocery stores. 

Step 4: Add your extras. These items are delicious on their own and deserve adequate praise. The possibilities are endless! Really, I mean…crunchy slices of bread, herb flavored crackers, almonds, cashews, dried apricots and cranberries, sliced apples, pears, figs, grapes, cornichons, olives, pickled vegetables, honey, preserved jams, mustards, and anything else that you think will marry the flavors of the meat and cheeses together. People like options. So give it to them! Just make sure that the ingredients you include have a purpose. 

Step 5: Put it all together. Start with the bigger items (meat and cheeses) first. Lay them out so that the colors, sizes, and textures are balanced across the display. Allow room to fill in the spaces with your extra ingredients. Put ingredients near each other that you think would go well together (figs and prosciutto, cornichons and mortadella, etc). Items like mustard and honey put in cute little dishes or unique cups to help contain them. Don’t forget to include small knives for your guest to use to slice off delectable bites.

Step 6: Garnish! My kids know how important this step is, and I think it might be their favorite (other than taste testing)! Add some greenery to your plate. It can be sprigs of fresh herbs, flowers from your garden, or small pine tree or eucalyptus branches. It adds an element of nature and life to your display and makes your charcuterie board feel elevated and sophisticated. Love is in the details, and your guests will appreciate your efforts.