Whether it’s on a fancy cutting board, in a jar or exclusively made of breakfast foods, a charcuterie board never disappoints. And with good reason: They’re customizable, great for feeding a crowd, typically no-cook and easy on the eyes. While “charcuterie” technically means a range of different cured meats, they can go way beyond salami and prosciutto, featuring various cheeses, crackers, spreads, snacks and fruits. In case you’re wondering how to make the best charcuterie board for the holidays and beyond, here’s a guide to ingredients, assembly and even tips for prepping it ahead and saving the leftovers (if there are any, that is).
How to Make the Best Charcuterie Board (Because No Party Is Complete without One)
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How to Create the Best Charcuterie Board
Hot take: You don’t need to be artistically gifted to craft a memorable charcuterie board (although it certainly can’t hurt). It’s a pretty formulaic process that’s as simple as breaking the board up into categories, then choosing components for each one.
- First, let’s get our proportions in order. Mentally split the board into fours, reserving equal quarters for meat, cheese, some kind of crackers or bread and whatever other accoutrements you want to include. Choose diverse components for each category to ensure that your guests’ tastes are all accounted for, or focus on a color scheme, theme, season, geographic region or flavor profile when selecting your ingredients. Either way, your board will be delicious and photogenic. To make it even simpler, lean on the 3-3-3-3 rule we learned from Broma Bakery: Use three cheeses, three meats, three starches or carbs and three accompaniments (fruits, nuts, spreads and even sweets, like chocolate truffles, are fair game), and you’ll get a drool-worthy board every time.
- Select soft, pre-sliced meats (like prosciutto or jamón Ibérico) that will be easy for your guests to grab with toothpicks, mini tongs, forks or their hands. Also get a couple of harder meats that require cutting (like a log of salami or soppressata) and serve them alongside small knives for slicing.
- Place harder cheeses, like a block of sharp cheddar or Manchego, alongside the harder meats. They can be cut with the same knife (as long as no one at your party is vegetarian or lactose intolerant).
- Add at least one spreadable cheese (like chèvre), spread or dip (like tzatziki, fruit preserves or hummus) and a small knife or spoon for guests to slather with.
- Weave in some complementary snacks. We’re talking crackers, preserves, bread, pickles, fruit, honeycomb, dips and whatever else you fancy. We’d recommend including something fresh (like sliced apples or peeled oranges), something acidic (like olives or pickles), something crunchy (like nuts or roasted chickpeas) and something spreadable (like fig jam or whole-grain mustard).
- Organize it well. There’s no ideal layout when it comes to making a charcuterie board. Just keep in mind that the meat, cheese and accoutrements should be accessible from all or most angles of the board. It helps to layer meat, cheese and crackers or bread across the entirety of the spread, then nestle small bowls of jam, olives, pickles and other snacks between them or at the corners of the board.
- Dress it up. Beyond serving it on a pretty wooden butcher block or a marble cutting board, consider working in other decorative elements. Tiny labels (or chalkboard picks that you can write on and reuse) are both cute and helpful, while little bowls and plates for preserves, nuts, olives and fresh fruit add color and dimension to the assortment. Fresh herbs are always a solid finishing touch.
The Best Types of Cheese to Use for a Charcuterie Board
There’s no limit to what cheeses you can use. All we advise is that you include a variety of textures on your board, meaning some for slicing, some for spreading and even some warmed or baked. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Gouda: It’s creamy, nutty, smooth and oftentimes smoked. The semi-hard cheese pairs well with sweet and spicy meats, like salami (especially the kind studded with black peppercorns).
- Parmesan or Pecorino Romano: These intensely salty, aged cheeses are often hard and crystallized, so serve them with a tiny knife for cutting. They pair seamlessly with buttery, fatty prosciutto.
- Cheddar or Havarti: These hard cheeses are rich, buttery and definite crowd-pleasers. Plate them alongside herbaceous, spicy meats, like soppressata or pepperoni.
- Fresh Mozzarella: We love using mild, soft pearl mozzarella for charcuterie boards, since it can be easily toothpicked, no slicing required. Marinate the pearls in olive oil and dry herbs before serving if you’re feeling fancy, and plate them with fresh basil and a small bowl of balsamic vinegar or glaze.
- Feta, Crumbled Goat Cheese or Chèvre: Briny, salty, soft cheeses like these pair with everything from fig jam and pine nuts to sliced cantaloupe and spiced almonds. We like that these cheeses don’t need to take up too much room on a charcuterie board, but still make a flavorful impact.
- Brie: Semisoft Brie’s earthy taste and decadent texture makes it a stunning pairing for fresh pears, hot honey, onion jam, roasted grapes, pistachios and maple syrup alike. To turn it into a communal dip, remove the rind from the top of the cheese and bake the wheel for 10 to 20 minutes at 350°F.
- Mascarpone or Ricotta: Sweet, soft and spreadable, these mild cheeses shine brightest alongside fresh berries, ripe cherries and chocolate.
The Best Types of Meat to Use for a Charcuterie Board
Just about any meat is fair game. If you make a themed board, there are of course even more options to consider that may not come to mind when you think of charcuterie. (For instance, bacon on a breakfast spread or steak on a fondue board.) Here are a few ideas to start with:
- Soft Salami or Jamón Ibérico: Soft, easy-to-grab meats are arguably most important. They can be rolled, fanned, laid flat or even turned into roses, depending on how ambitious you’re feeling. Don't forget to have tongs or toothpicks nearby for easy grabbing. These meats pair with just about everything, but we especially love Manchego and Parmesan cheeses.
- Prosciutto: It’s a crowd favorite for a reason. If you're looking for quality, be prepared to pay a bit more per ounce for prosciutto di Parma (aka buttery, top-tier prosciutto that's made in Parma and aged twice as long). To save, buy any sliced prosciutto from a brand you trust. Either way, pair it with fresh mozzarella, provolone or Asiago cheeses.
- Soppressata: This dry, hard salami should be nestled by the hard cheeses on your board for easy slicing. Pair it with a buttery, mild cheese like Havarti that will let the spiced meat shine.
- Spanish Chorizo: This hard, cured meat is known for its vibrant color and spicy, fatty flavor. It’s a stellar pairing for Manchego, smoked or aged cheddar or even blue cheese. (Same goes for pepperoni.)
The Best Types of Bread and Crackers to Use for a Charcuterie Board
On a charcuterie board, their purpose is to be a vehicle for cheese and meat. Variety is the name of the game, both in terms of texture and appearance. For instance, a soft baguette, seeded cracker and crispy breadsticks make for a visually intriguing board and give your guests a range of crunchy bits to choose from.
- Thin Breadsticks: Consider the carbs of your charcuterie board an opportunity to play with visuals. This crispy addition can be arranged vertically in a jar for easy grabbing and to offer dimension to the spread.
- Whole Wheat Crackers: This earthy staple tastes good with literally every meat and cheese under the sun. Plus, it tends to be a bargain buy.
- Baguette or Crostini: Whether you serve it fresh and untoasted or sliced and crisped, no one is going to turn down a hunk of good bread. We like baguette for spreadable cheeses, fig and onion jams and infused olive oil. Crostini is particularly great for marinated tomatoes or bruschetta, olive tapenade and just about any meat and cheese.
- Toasted Pita or Sourdough: We love these hardier breads for dips and spreads, like tzatziki or compound butter, especially when warm or toasted. (BTW, if you’re making a butter board, sourdough is essential.)
- Goldfish: Sure, you could use any cheese cracker. But isn’t their shape so much more fun than standard squares?
Can You Make a Charcuterie Board Ahead of Time?
Absolutely! Assemble the entire board in advance and keep it in the fridge right before it’s time to serve. If there are warm or room temperature components, keep them separate and bring them to temp or heat them just before putting the board out.
What Should You Do with Charcuterie Board Leftovers?
Eat them, of course. Keep the charcuterie remnants covered in your fridge for grazing (or better yet, for assembling mini single-serve cheese boards), turn them into sandwiches (grilled cheese, anyone?) or mix them into salad or pasta if you’re feeling extra resourceful.