When it comes to hosting a great dinner party, there are staples to the night that I cannot skip: excellent food, great (quantities of) wine, and the perfect blend of friends. My secret weapon for any gathering is one thing: a perfectly curated charcuterie board. Not only does it appease guests’ pre-dinner appetites but it’s also chic, classy, and fun to put together!
So today I’m going to share a few of my secrets on how to make a crowd-pleasing charcuterie board and how to do so on a limited budget.
In case you’re unfamiliar, charcuterie (pronounced shar-kood-eree) are meat and cheese boards that typically include a variety of other foods that can be paired for palate-pleasing combinations. The ingredients all complement the meats and cheeses present, and guests can have a fun do-it-yourself appetizer. Plus, charcuterie can be created any time of the year utilizing a lot of different seasonal foods to continue making a unique and special selection.
Choose a variety
Meats and cheeses are the key components to any charcuterie. However, any good spread needs a solid amount of choice, and I recommend going with a mixture of textures to please the palate. This means finding meats and cheeses which offer a variety of softness, hardness, chewiness, dryness, etc.
For meats, I generally go with aged meats rather than sliced deli meat because they’re full of flavor and tend to pair easier. Look for a few different options such as prosciutto, cured ham, pâté, or salamis. I typically shop at Aldi for my meat and cheese needs because their selection is amazing! One of my go-tos is the Specially Selected Prosciutto Panino which offers a soft mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto. I could eat this by itself but it makes an awesome pairing partner to a variety of other ingredients in a spread too.
Now let’s talk cheese — my favorite part of the charcuterie. I typically select at least four cheeses: a mild, medium, and sharp cheese along with a goat milk cheese. I absolutely love goat cheese and having a bit in your charcuterie offers a non-dairy option. It’s a win-win for any group! For my mild cheese, I typically find a smooth Brie and it seems to always be a favorite among my guests. I go for a Gouda or cheddar as my medium-bodied cheese. As long as it pairs well with both white and red wine (and beer sometimes) then I’m happy. And finally, I love to bring a blue cheese out as my sharp cheese as it pairs so well with bolder meats and heavy red wines. One of my ride-or-dies is Kenny’s Farmhouse Bleu Gouda (ohmigoodness, I’m salivating just thinking about this cheese.) When feeling especially adventurous I’ll also throw together a wedge or two of hand-crafted specialty cheese such as the Roasted Garlic with Tomato and Basil Cheese by Specially Selected.
Sweet, spice, and everything nice
Salty is good up to a point. Since many of your meat options are cured, they will be very salty. So it is good practice to balance things out with milder flavors. Serve up a sweet complement such as fresh or dried fruit, jams, or mustards. Working at a winery for so many years, my charcuterie boards are lacking if I do not have some bunches of grapes decorating them. I also love adding a bit of softness to the board through Southern Grove Dried Apricots.
Two other additions every single one of my charcuterie spreads include which have guests raving? The first is adding strawberry preserves (preferably homemade) to the top of my Brie and warming it enough to make it just the slightest bit gooey. The second — and the highest praise-worthy inclusion — is goat cheese with apricot preserves. Either create a base of apricot preserves topped with crumbled goat cheese or a bowl of layering the two ingredients, but your guests are going to go crazy for this flavor explosion!
Depending on whether your charcuterie is the main event or simply a pre-dinner snack, you’ll want to alter the amount of meat and cheese you buy. (Though overbuying wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.) My rule of thumb is three ounces per person as an appetizer and doubled portions if your board is the food focus. Charcuterie is a rich foodie project and will be overly satisfying.
Feel free to go basic or wild in your varieties of meat, cheeses, condiments, garnishments, and add-ins though. Along with the salty and sweet options, I love to add some savory notes to my boards. Olives are a great choice, and nuts come in so many varieties and add a nice crunch. Go with pistachios, cashews, or a trail mix. And bread! Bread is a must. Serve a couple of different breads such as a strong sourdough alongside a simple ciabatta or an assortment of crackers and you’ll be good to go.
Do not feel obligated to stick with “traditional charcuterie” options though. Sometimes I’ll add a little seasonal twist and weave pumpkin seeds across my board. Last Halloween I had a glorious charcuterie arrayed around a centerpiece of Sour Patch Straws. (Which were surprisingly good with a bit of dry Riesling…)
Budget-friendly tip: Typically a spread like those I have pictured throughout this post cost around $50 at Aldi and filled the bellies of 30+ people during my wine club events. Find your key elements (meat and cheeses), choose an assortment of crackers of breads, and then find a few tasty add-ins.
The only piece of charcuterie you should rely to remain the same each and every time is the great company it brings to your table. One of my favorite parts about hosting a get-together featuring a charcuterie board is we all inevitably end up discussing our favorite flavor profiles. And in turn drink a lot of good wine. Simple evenings like those are usually the most relaxing and memorable.
And that is it, friends. Get out there and try your own charcuterie spreads! I would love to hear what your favorite charcuterie items are — what have you tried that really packed a flavor punch? Please share your ideas with me!