Assembling the perfect charcuterie board might seem like a daunting task, but once you’ve nailed the pronunciation (shar-ku-tah-ree) and basic ratios—this traditionally French meal will become a go-to.
The beauty of charcuterie is that it can be grocery-store simple or gourmet-market fancy—you set the tone. Plus, there’s no real cooking involved: it’s very much a buy-and-assemble job, which makes charcuterie ideal for last-minute entertaining or an easy dinner for two.
If you’ve always wanted to learn how to assemble that just-right, Insta-worthy platter that your guests will be talking about even after the party, we’ve got you covered. Here, some of our favourite food pros share their top tips on how to build the perfect charcuterie board.
Mix up the meat
When you’re mapping out what you want your spread to look like, start with the meat. “I typically like to include at least three meat options: prosciutto, salami and a bresaola or mortadella,” says Ashley Denton, a food stylist with Judy Inc. “Prosciutto and bresaola add a salty element that goes well with cheese. The salami contributes a richer flavour and heats things up if you like it spicy.” You can always add more varieties of meat if you’d like, especially if you’re expecting a large crowd.
Serve cheese you love
“I usually include at least four cheeses,” says Denton. “There are many rules that say you should add an aged cheese, a soft cheese, a firm cheese and blue cheese. But, I’m a firm believer in serving what you like. If you don’t like blue, then don’t serve it.” Denton’s favourite cheeses to serve are a Red or White Fox, Beemster, Niagara Gold and Gorgonzola or Cambozola (a milder mix of Camembert and Gorgonzola). He also has a soft spot for Boursin.
Sweet, savoury, sour and spreadable
Get creative when adding colourful and delicious accoutrements to your charcuterie board. This is where you can have some fun and offer a variety of pickled bites, like almond-stuffed green olives, pickled veggies and classic baby gherkins, says Sabrina Falone, a classically trained chef and Chief Culinary Officer at SF Creative Culinary Solutions. They’re there for more than just looks, too: because the meat and cheese can be quite rich, offering bright little acidic bites help cleanse the palate. Want to diversify your board even more? Spreads are a great way to add flavour and variety, says Falone. “I like to offer a sweet and savoury option. For sweet, my go-to is fig jam. For savoury spreads, I love to include a creamy hummus,” she says. “Its mild flavour perfectly complements the other elements on the board without overpowering them.” Falone is a fan of hummus topped with roasted red peppers or olives, like Sabra Roasted Red Pepper Hummus or Sabra Greek Olive Hummus.
Keep the carbs classic
When it comes to bread and crackers, Falone prefers to keep it simple. “I like to include items that are fairly neutral in flavour but offer great texture,” explains Falone. She recommends trying wafer thin crackers, fresh baguette and fruit-studded crisps. If you’re feeling adventurous, try whipping up a batch of Homemade Crispy Crackers and adding them to your spread.
When it comes to presentation, Denton recommends using your favourite cutting board or serving platter—or even use multiple surfaces if need be. Better yet, he suggests using your coffee table or dining table, covering it with a tablecloth and placing multiple platters over the entire surface to take advantage of the additional space.
You’ll also need to add a few other essentials. “Don’t forget napkins, nice spreaders and cheese knives. Each cheese should have their own knife,” says Denton. Ideally, you’ll want to equip your guests with the right tools for the job—a fork-tipped spear for firmer cheese, an openwork blade for soft cheeses and flat cheese knife for crumbly varieties. If you don’t own a set of cheese knives, don’t sweat it—separate knives for each cheese will do.
“Use your favourite dishes and put breadsticks or crudités upright in a nice glass to add height. I like to arrange in groupings, but loosely,” he says. “I start with cheeses, meats and crackers. Fill in the remaining spaces with spreads, fruit and nuts.”
If you’re trying to up your Instagram game, Denton suggests trying a monotone colour theme. Make your board memorable by try grouping red fruits and jams (red grapes, raspberries, currents, apples, red pears, red jellies, etc) or go the opposite direction and have a whole variety of colours in the spread.
And last but not least, assemble the platters ahead of time! Falone recommends refrigerating them after you’ve put them together, and then taking them out 30 to 45 minutes before people arrive. This allows meat and cheese to come to room temperature, ensuring you and your guests fully enjoy their nuanced flavours.