Charcuterie boards are easy enough to build, but there’s a distinct line between a good one, and a great one. Great charcuterie boards take only a tiny bit of extra thought and effort and can quickly make you a legend. I may not remember what my cousin’s wife wore to her husband’s 40th birthday party but I DO remember the amazing, table-wide charcuterie spread she had created for the occasion. There were fruits, and nuts, mustards never before seen or sampled, meats, cheeses, and beautiful skewers made from mini bocconcini, slices of salami, a cherry tomato, basil , and one simple, wonderfully-salty, plump olives, then drizzled with a balsamic reduction. They were Caprese salad on a stick, and frankly, they were so good that her hair could have been a bird’s nest and I would not have noticed.
If you’ve only built small boards or perhaps never built a board yourself, we’re here to help.
First, get a board – or even a surface. A board can be anything from an actual wood cutting board, a marble slab, your entire counter top or kitchen island lined with butcher paper, or a serving platter. Anything goes. I have a friend who uses two clean canoe paddles, crisscrossed over her table for summer parties!
Now, the goods:
Offer a decent selection to fill up the carnivores! As with anything charcuterie, ensure balance: fatty meats, salty, cured meats, harder ones like dry-cured salami, and softer, more tender items like a maple ham or on-the-rare side cuts of roast beef. Arrange the meats in various ways: rolled, piled, arranged in fans, or roughly tumbles slices of chorizo. Think variety here!
Cheese is the heart of the charcuterie board. As with your meat, make sure you have several cheeses to suit all palates and even a lactose-free selection or a vegan cheese will be a welcome addition. (Make sure to mark those as such or be clear to your guests so they understand what they’re safe to eat.) Surefire crowd pleasers: old cheddar, soft brie, a spiced gouda, and a strong blue or Roquefort, or even a herbed goat cheese log. Go mild to strong but DO not forget the brie as it will pair so nicely with the fruit and jams we mention below.
Bertolli now offers a newly launched delicious line up of olives, including pitted green, Tuscan-style, Sicilian-style, and organic black - and they’re easy to find at your local Sobeys, Metro, and Longos stores in Canada! They’re perfect snacks which makes them perfect for charcuterie boards, because the variety they offer range from savoury to meaty or even a bit spicy! Bertolli has long offered Canadians delicious olive oils, and they’ve been synonymous with quality for decades, and now they’ve brought that level of Mediterranean flavour and quality to every bite of their juicy olives.
They are available in great flavours including Sicilian Style Table Olives (spicy marinated with garlic, chili and parsley) and Tuscan Table Olives, which are inspired by the region of Lucca, where Bertolli was born in 1865, and are marinated with oregano and sundried tomatoes.
With so many amazing taste profiles, we recommend you keep a jar of each of the four varieties in your pantry for entertainment insurance!
Place your olives and other marinated or pickled vegetables in small bowls around the board, offering palate-inspiration and heightening visual elements of the board. Olives are what prevent your board from becoming boring or too “meh,” and they elevate the fun factor immediately.
Nuts and pretzels are fabulous for sprinkling around the board in small piles, or in a little crock or colourful paper cups. Think of them as important “filler” in the way that they give your guests something to crunch on while planning their next mini-sandwich move from all your other charcuterie elements.
Nothing takes cheddar “next level” than a fabulous wildflower honey. Trust us; you and your guests will love it. Chutneys and jams pair well with any mild cheese you offer, but make sure you have some that are tart as well as sweet. Sour cherry and brandy compotes are easy to make at home, as are cranberries cooked in a rum, or red wine. Serve warm and cold to cover all the bases!
If it’s not a solid, it’s a dip! Hummus, baba ghanoush, creamy dill, ranch, a hot baked dip for some warmth, even a high-quality aioli works for dunking veggies, chips, or bread.
You need a vehicle to get all the deliciousness in! Offer sliced baguette, a selection of crackers that includes gluten-free options, and try to hit various flavour notes from a very plain water cracker, to more interesting options such as a rosemary olive oil or baked cranberry and thyme slice. Don’t overlook alternatives such as cucumber and carrot slices cut thin on the diagonal (use a mandolin for perfect, uniform slices). Small bowls of pretzels and bagel chips work too, and are a wonderful and too-often overlooked addition for dip-lovers.
Fruit pairs perfectly with cheeses. Traditional favourite are ripe pear, sliced green apple, blackberries, and grapes. Dried fruit should be included, and can be used to top crackers piled high with blue cheeses or a mild, innocuous brie.
Go beyond regular yellow mustards when approaching this angle. Think seedy, sweet, super-hot, and everything in between! Mustards are a small part of a board, but they are guaranteed to have everyone talking about what to pair with each one. You can put out the whole jar if small and squat in size, or if they are thick enough, you can even put directly on the board. Small bowls and ramekins work too, for those mustards too drippy to do anything other than drizzle on with a spoon.
Finish your board by making sure you include small, pretty spoons and forks and a big pile of sturdy napkins or cocktail plates. Add decorative elements, too. Rosemary sprigs, twigs of thyme, or small flowers all heighten the esthetic of boards and make them a pleasure to look at as well as eat. A gorgeous and delicate violet bloom next to a shiny, plump, chartreuse olive looks like a little present!
Charcuterie boards are so customizable that allow you to offer an amazing selection of filling, delicious foods to a large group of people, even while accounting for taste, allergies, or preferences. I have a vegetarian, a gluten-free, a Keto plan, and a grain-free vegan eater in my family and I am still able to offer everyone a selection that more than satisfies. And I almost forgot the best part of serving charcuterie to family and friends: only ONE platter to wash!