Charcuterie 101

Charcuterie is popping up everywhere, from food blogs to five-star restaurants to your local grocery store. And while many people think of it as a high-class appetizer you can only get at a restaurant, it’s easier to do at home than you might think. All you need are a few tips, the right board, and hungry friends.

So What Is Charcuterie?

It comes from the French culinary tradition of offering a selection of prepared meats like salami and prosciutto. Originally, meat was front and center on a charcuterie board, but now you’ll see elements like cheese and antipasto mixed in. These sweet, salty, and briny extras provide a brilliant balance, and give you and your friends the chance to try unexpected combinations.

Think of it as a fancy, adult version of Lunchables®, but way, way more delicious.


When to Make Charcuterie

Long story short, break out the charcuterie board when you want to impress. Although it’s traditionally served as an appetizer, it can be an equally strong stand-in for dinner parties. The variety of textures and flavors lets your guests pick and choose what they want, and the DIY elements make it fun for everyone.

Since boards are 100% customizable, you can make it any time of year, for any occasion. Charcuterie is especially great in the summer when people love to entertain, but are less likely to cook. And when the holiday season rolls around, charcuterie is a classy (and easy) way to feed your friends and family.

Choosing Your Charcuterie Board

While anything from a standard serving platter to a cutting board will work as the backdrop, this is a chance to really up your charcuterie game. Play up the rustic elements of your selection on an ash wood or slate serving board. Or, give it a posh, sophisticated edge on a stoneware platter.

Large Entertaining Platter

How to Make a Basic Charcuterie Board

  • Cured sausage. You’ve definitely come across the beginner’s version of cured sausage on a pizza (psst…it’s pepperoni), but there are TONS of other international flavors. Try some spicy sopressata or a dry-cured chorizo. If you’re feeling lost, the expert at your local grocery store or meat market can help you choose.
  • Whole muscle cuts. These cured or smoked meats include prosciutto (dry-cured, aged pig’s leg), bresola (beef prosciutto), cappicola (dry-cured, single muscle from the top of the shoulder), and smoked ham (serrano ham or jamon Iberico). A little stuck? Talk to the expert at your local grocery store or meat market.
  • Something bready. Crostini, thin breadsticks, or crackers will add a little texture and crunch.
  • Something sweet. Salty, fatty meats pair well with dried fruit, spreadable jam, or chutney. Fig jam or dried apricots (or try this Apple & Walnut Tapenade) are amazing additions.
  • Something briny. Bright and acidic flavors like olives, cornichons, or grainy mustard pair well with the meat.
  • Cheese pairing. Even though charcuterie revolves around cured meat, we still love our cheese. We like to pair regional meats and cheeses like prosciutto with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Spicier cured sausages can get a cooling balance from goat cheese.
  • The wine. Pair with a bold red wine or a crisp sauvignon blanc.
Apple Walnut Tapenade

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11 Responses to Charcuterie 101

  1. Gail Reiss September 7, 2016 at 3:48 pm #

    We just call it a meat and cheese plate.

    • Janice Alston September 11, 2016 at 3:40 pm #

      lol, I’m a simplest too!

      • Libby Rhodes September 25, 2016 at 12:30 pm #

        I agree with Missy, Janice and Gail. With different crackers, pepperoni, square pre cut cheeses (Crackerbarrel ), other meats, cream cheeses, etc, you can create your own plate with imagination using other condiments of pickles, olives etc.

  2. Missy Kistemaker September 23, 2016 at 12:07 pm #

    I know – “charcuterie” is the new “buzz word”. Plus, “meat & cheese” can imply squares of cheddar & provolone that you pick up at the deli. For about the same price, you can create your own that packs a LOT more flavor.

  3. linda November 7, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

    this is not new, my friends and I have been doing this for over 40 years.

  4. Cathy November 19, 2016 at 6:05 pm #

    Love this! Will be doing this at my Pampered Chef own house.

  5. Cathy November 19, 2016 at 6:05 pm #

    Thanks for the post and ideas.

  6. Jen November 19, 2016 at 6:41 pm #

    The word “charcuterie” actually refers to the process of making the cured meats, in terms of French tradition. A “charcuterie platter” is different than a “meat and cheese platter”. Throw some cubes of Cracker Barrel cheddar on a plate with pepperoni and you have a meat and cheese platter. Charcuterie is more of an art form. The French have a tradition of selecting meats, cheeses, and other items that really complement each other in your mouth and pair well with the wine selected. It’s not new either, but has mostly been popular in Europe until hipster eateries in the United States caught on.
    It goes far beyond the scope of throwing random deli meat and cheese on a plate. It’s all about beautiful flavors melding together and creating food art, and it’s about trying new types of foods you’ve maybe never heard of!

  7. Carmella Chris November 20, 2016 at 9:33 pm #

    Linda…so good to hear from you again. The last time I spoke to you, I asked about a catalog and I’m still hoping to receive one before the holidays and would be more than happy to pay any cost for a catalog and the postage hopefully to select a few Christmas gifts as it’s getting harder for me to get out and about just to stand in long lines to pay for something I’m already tired from shopping around for! Please give me a call when you have time…702-259-7600 if you don’t mind. I haven’t replaced my computer since it died on me and at this age not sure I will.

  8. Carmella Chris November 20, 2016 at 9:36 pm #

    Linda…so good to hear from you again. The last time I spoke to you, I asked about a catalog and I’m still hoping ! Please give me a call when you have time…702-259-7600 if you don’t mind. I haven’t replaced my computer since it died on me and at this age not sure I will.

  9. Dee November 25, 2016 at 8:30 pm #

    We’re still just the same old folks, but now that the kids are grown & we’ve replaced the plastic dishes with nicer stuff, we’ve also moved from those yummy cheese & cracker plates of yore & are having fun trying to create new dishes -yes, charcuterie. Here’s a fun idea for the sweet – fresh honeycomb!

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