A properly outfitted cheese and charcuterie board is an easy way to impress a party crowd or a single dinner guest, but only if you pull it off. Familiarizing yourself with different meats, cheeses, and accompaniments is essential to successfully bring out the best in them. Read on to learn how!
Choosing the Stars
For any cheese board, you’ll want a variety of styles ranging from fresh and mild to the most pungent of blues. The Huffington Post recommends including a fresh cheese (Ricotta), a bloomy rind (Camembert), a semi-soft (Raclette), a firm (Comte), a hard (Parmigiano Reggiano), and a blue (Roquefort). You can estimate 3 – 4 ounces of cheese per person at your gathering, and don’t forget to have a variety of flavors, textures, and milk types in your selection of cheeses. Check out our blog for more tips on choosing cheese for a board or plate.
When it comes to meats, it’s a good idea to celebrate diversity here, too. Think different animals, different textures, different flavors (smoked, spicy, etc), and raw versus cooked. Loulie’s suggests a few more options to try:
Dry-cured meat is a must, common choices include proscuitto, salami, soppressata, Saucisson sec, or chorizo. You could also include a pate (we like the rustic de campagne) or a terrine. Small specialty shops or farmers markets are a good place for sourcing.
This is one pairing where texture plays a huge role, and it’s all a matter of personal preference. While you can still pair like with like, sometimes contrasting consistencies offer a nice surprise. “There’s plenty [of evidence] to recommend prosciutto di Parma and aged Parmigiano Reggiano,” David Katz of Napa Valley’s Sub Rosa Salumi told us in our Cheese+ issue, “but I’d rather eat it with burrata di bufala [buffalo’s milk burrata], which contrasts more in terms of salt and mouthfeel.”
So there’s one for you: thinly-sliced, salty prosciutto with pillowy, milky burrata. For those who like particularly aromatic cured meats, we’d recommend wild fennel pollen-infused Sub Rosa Salumi Finocchiona with creamy, mildly-sheepy Pecorino Toscano Fresco. And for a pairing with even more kick, try ‘nduja (that’s a spicy, spreadable pork salami) tempered by sweet, slightly savory Salvatore Bklyn Smoked Ricotta.
Sweet and Salty Fixings
As much as we love the combination, there’s no denying that cheese and meat can get heavy. To break up some of the fattiness, make sure to include something acidic, like capers or cornichons. Cured meats also love mild fruits like apples, pears, figs, and melon. To encourage a mindblowing combination of flavors, place some freshly sliced cantaloupe directly next to the brie and speck.
Crackers and Bread
Adding some crackers or baguette slices leave guests the option of playing chef and creating their own mini sandwiches. Aim to have at least two different options with contrasting textures. The Huffington Post suggests,
As a textural contrast, serve crusty bread, plain crackers, plain breadsticks or plain crostini. Mellow tasting items such as these achieve the texture contrasting element while their subtleness allows the flavour profile of the cheese to be at the forefront and untainted.
Keep these tips in mind and visit your local specialty foods store when shopping for your next date, dinner party, or potluck (bring your board-building tools with you so you can assemble on the spot!) The no-fail cheese and meat board is quick, simple, and a whole lot tastier than a bag of corn chips.Photo: Lucas Confectionary