Serving charcuterie as a party appetizer is easier than you think. Learn what charcuterie is, when to serve it, and how to put together a beautiful charcuterie board. Then, pair it with the perfect wine or champagne to impress your company
Charcuterie is popping up everywhere, from food blogs to five-star restaurants to your local grocery store. And while many people think of charcuterie boards as an appetizer option you can only get at a restaurant, it’s easier to serve at home than you might think. All you need are a few tips, the right charcuterie board, and hungry friends.
What Is Charcuterie?
Charcuterie is the French culinary tradition of preparing 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®, that’s way more delicious.
When to Make Charcuterie
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 percent customizable, you can serve 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 an elegant and easy way to feed your friends and family.
How to Choose a Charcuterie Board
How to Build 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, too. Try some spicy sopressata or a dry-cured chorizo.
- 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). It’s important to have both rich and spicy meats on the platter.
- 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, cheese is important, too. Pair regional meats and cheeses like prosciutto with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Spicier cured sausages can get a cooling balance from goat cheese. To add more texture and flavor, make sure you have a mixture of soft, hard, and strong cheeses.
- Something bready. Crostini, thin breadsticks, or crackers will add a little texture and crunch.
- Something sweet. Salty, fatty meats pair well with grapes, dried fruit, spreadable jam, or chutney. Fig jam or dried apricots are great options for a charcuterie board.
- Something crunchy. To add more crunch, use a variety of nuts. Mix it up with pistachios, pecans, almonds, and more.
Wine and Champagne to Pair With Charcuterie
Wine or champagne is a natural fit when charcuterie is served at a party. What you pour depends on what’s on your board.
Champagne is a great option to surprise your guests with because most people don’t think of pairing foods with champagne. Champagne has a distinct acidity that pairs well with salty and fatty foods like almonds; aged, hard cheeses like gouda or cheddar; and blackberries and raspberries that aren’t too sweet. Popping open some bubbly also offers a nice palate cleanser.
Similarly, sparkling wines and crisp white wines go well with almost any charcuterie board. Consider prosecco, rosé, sauvignon blancs or dry Rieslings. A good rule of thumb: Choose wines with low alcohol content to keep all the flavors balanced.
Have you made your own charcuterie board? What worked? What didn’t? We’d love to know!
This post has been updated since it was originally published in October 2017.