When I really think about it, I have been rocking the charcuterie board for a very long time! I am a 70’s baby and grew up eating cheese logs and sausage sticks served on a wood board from pop-up Hickory Farms stores during the holidays (Swiss Colony mail order too!) or Cracker Barrel (before they had restaurants everywhere!). Eating from these boards was a special event where people (even if it was just my immediate family) gathered to celebrate.
It wasn't until later when I grew into my adult Francophile self and moved to Europe for work that I truly began to appreciate this dynamic “dish.” I enjoyed many of these with my colleagues in Switzerland during Friday apéros and Mr. Misadventures and I often will enjoy a charcuterie board on the weekend, while camping, or even hiking!
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While the charcuterie board has been around for quite a long time, it has only become a staple in American restaurants in the last 5+ years, appearing on menus across the country. This classic sharing item works perfectly for groups of friends or couples dining out. It is also ideal for any dinner party, allowing the host to cater to multiple people in one simple starter.
But don’t mistake the simplicity of the charcuterie board for boring. The variety of combinations that you can put together when creating the ideal board, makes this an incredibly exciting and appealing option for any night out or in!
So let us look at how to build a charcuterie board and what to put on one. But before we do that, let's start with where it originates from, as that plays into their construction.
What does charcuterie board mean?
Let’s start by breaking down the word charcuterie itself. It is derived from two French words that literally mean cooked (cuit) and flesh (chair), but it is French for a butcher shop as well as a style of cooking devoted to prepared meat products, traditionally pork. On the board, charcuterie refers to the cured meats that are on offer. (By the way, charcuterie is pronounced “shar-koo-tir-ee.”)
A lot of people believe that the charcuterie board is Italian because the name sounds like “carne cruda” – or raw meat; however, this dish originated in France and migrated over to Italy. Even though the origins of the charcuterie board are traced back to France, it is popular in many different countries throughout Europe, including Italy, Spain, and Portugal.
The word was first used in the 15th century to describe shops in France that sold products that were made from pork, but the act of charcuterie is steeped in the belief of not wasting any part of the animal and can be traced back to Roman times, with the practice of salting and smoking meats to preserve them.
These days a charcuterie board is a selection of meats, cheeses, and other accompaniments that are served together to create an appetizing platter. But you will also see that it can go way beyond those simple ingredients.
When do the French eat Charcuterie Boards?
One last step before we dig in. The charcuterie board, or assiette de charcuterie is a beloved French institution. The French partake in this grazing style of eating for pre-meal (lunch/dinner) apéros at wine bars, on bistro menus, for a weekend meal at home, or on a picnic. The assiette de charcuterie is considered a bon apéritif sous forme de grignotage..or good pre-meal snacking!
What to put on a Charcuterie Board?
The traditional ingredients for this board consist of bread, cured meats (mainly pork), cheeses, and various other accompaniments that are served together to create an appetizer platter. On the modern charcuterie board, you are likely to see pickles, dips, fruits, crackers and bread, olives, and other vegetables.
Ultimately it comes down to the preferences of the host, the restaurant, or you depending on who is making it and who it is for, but it is not unusual to see the following on a charcuterie board:
- Bread and crackers. It is common to see bread or hearty crackers on the board or sometimes served alongside the board. They go particularly well with the meats, cheeses, and dips.
- Dips. You will often find an olive oil complimenting the board, as well as dips like hummus and tzatziki. Mustard is another popular addition.
- Fruits. Apples and grapes are the most common fruit to be found. Dried fruit can also be seen, like apricots and dates.
- Nuts. Almonds are a staple and others that you might see are cashews and pistachios. Depending on the cheeses, there could also be walnuts.
- Vegetables. Cucumber, carrots, olives, and pickles are typical veggies to see on a charcuterie board. They should be cut thick enough to not fall apart with a dip.
Despite these additions, at the heart of a good charcuterie board are the meats, closely followed by a variety of good cheeses, normally selected to compliment the meats chosen.
Whilst the origins of charcuterie lie in pork, the selection of meats used now has expanded far beyond that. Some of the more common meats to find on your board would be capicola, salami, prosciutto, dry-cured chorizo, mortadella, or ham. You should choose the highest quality meats possible, and think quality over quantity when it comes to a good charcuterie board.
The cheese selection to expect varies depending on meats, the wines you have chosen (more on them shortly), and personal taste. You might find classics like a good cheddar or swiss cheeses. Soft cheeses are quite common, with brie and differing types of goat cheese very popular.
An aged gouda is a good staple of a charcuterie board, along with gruyere. The key is to have a few contrasting kinds of cheese, so the board has variety and they enhance the dining experience.
Is Charcuterie Board healthy?
A charcuterie board is typically considered a healthier option for an appetizer because it consists of mostly meats and cheeses, which are high in protein. In addition to being tasty, this combination also provides plenty of sustenance before the main meal begins.
With Mr. Misadventures and I following a low-carb lifestyle, we love charcuterie boards because meats and cheeses are low-carb. We just skip the bread and go for low-carb crackers (our favorite: Trader Joe's Gluten-Free Norwegian Crispbread Crackers).
What to put on a French charcuterie board
Oh la la, so many options!
We were recently gifted some Jambon de Bayonne and used it to make a weekend platter while relaxing on our back deck (before it got too humid!). We are big fans of this product from the south of France!
Jambon de Bayonne (Bayonne Ham) is a cured ham that originates from Bayonne, a port city in the far southwestern part of France. It has a delicate yet complex flavor and is typically served thinly sliced for breakfast or lunch. Jambon de Bayonne is air-cured, from pigs native to the region with ‘mountain salt’ sourced from the base of the Pyrenees Mountains. There is a great article that includes a little of its origin story here.
Bayonne Ham is considered a delicacy in France and can be purchased from specialty stores. In 2014, Bayonne ham became the first French dry-cured ham sold on the US market. You can find these brands of Bayonnne Ham here in the US: Agour, Delpeyrat, Pierre Oteiza, Mayte, Salaisons de l’Adour, La Maison du Jambon and from the American-based company D’Artagnan where Mr. Misadventures and I get our duck confit.
We paired our Jambon de Bayonne with Petit Basque, dried apricots, Everything But the Bagel Nut Duo (almonds and cashews), and cornichons.
A traditional French assiette de charcuterie will have patés, terrines, and rillettes along with ham and dried sausage. For cheeses, with over 3,000 in France there is no wrong way to go. Typically you will see Camembert or Brie (I prefer Saint André), Morbier, Comté, a Roquefort or Blue, and then some kind of goat cheese. There will be cornichons and real Dijon mustard.
Other items might include red grapes, almonds, radishes, figs, almonds, walnuts, olives from the South of France. France is a magical place when it comes to food, the possibilities are endless!
One thing to note, a French charcuterie board will always be served with bread, never crackers.
Serve with champagne or Beaujolais wine.
Bon appétit !
What to put on a Spanish charcuterie board?
Similar to the French version, I would start with a cured ham along with sliced dried chorizo and then accompany it with Manchego, Mahon, and Drunken Goat cheeses then add Spanish Marcona almonds, mixed olives, and quince or dates.
Serve with cava (sparkling wine), Rioja, or Rueda.
What to put on an Italian charcuterie board?
Charcuterie boards in Italy are considered the anti-pasta course. For meats, go for Italian salamis (there are a ton of Italian varieties like Genoa, cured, uncured, etc.), prosciutto, Soppressata, or Speck. For cheeses, I like Pecorino, especially ones with truffles, bite-size mozzarella balls (I think Burrata is too soft for a board), parmesan, and provolone – that gives a good amount of textures and flavors.
Then add cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and walnuts and sweeten things up with figs, cantaloupe, a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar, and a dab of honey.
You often see crostini with fresh bruschetta as well.
Serve with the traditional Aperol Spritz or Chianti, Barolo, or Sangiovese wines.
Alternative charcuterie boards
As charcuterie boards have evolved, some different versions of the boards have been created.
- Vegetarian boards that contain plant-based products. Mr. Misadventures and I used to buy an amazing mushroom pate when we were living in San Francisco! Vegetarian Mama has a great recipe for a vegetarian charcuterie board.
- Vegan boards with vegan cheese, meat substitutes, and lots of yummy vegetables, nuts, and fruits. Emilie Eats has a great recipe for a vegan charcuterie board.
- Desert boards with cookies, marshmallows, chocolate dipping sauces, etc.
- Another popular version you might try is a kids' version. Using meats like ham and salami, which are easier for their palates, cheeses like cheddar or even cheese straws for fun! Then choose fruits like strawberries and maybe add a little mini donut to top off the board.
- I have seen some very creative french fry boards! You can have different kinds of fries (matchstick, steak, sweet potato) and dipping sauces.
- Breakfast is another great opportunity!
Holiday charcuterie boards
A charcuterie board is a delicious and beautiful way to serve food for any occasion. But they also make tasty treats for the holidays – This would be an awesome addition to any holiday party you're hosting.
A Christmas version might have cranberries as one of the fruits, chocolate truffles, and some items shaped like trees. For a romantic evening, maybe a valentine's version, making some of the foods look like hearts, as well as adding some chocolate-dipped strawberries and even some love heart sweets.
How to make and build a charcuterie board?
Choose a variety of meats and cheeses, bread, and condiments to build your own board. The idea is that the different components can be layered over one another in a pleasingly colorful pattern–a “beautiful mess” as Julia Child once said. If it's good enough for Julia, it's good enough for me! I will say that there are very talented people out there doing custom charcuterie boards. I love some of the ones I've seen locally in the Raleigh-Durham area such as Graze Charcuterie and Crafted in Thyme.
We do eat with the eyes, but I am not going to stress if it isn't perfect. The essential ingredient when it comes to charcuterie boards is good quality products. Once you have that, the building is a snap.
With so many options available to go on a charcuterie board, it is often difficult to work out where to start when designing the best board possible. So let us look at some good charcuterie board ideas and consider best practices when building the perfect charcuterie board. It is important to start with the key ingredients that make a charcuterie board: the cheeses and meats.
Everything else is an accompaniment to these centerpieces, so getting them right first is the goal. Just because there's barely any cooking involved in preparing a charcuterie board, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan it like any meal.
So to start, list out the meats and cheeses you want on your board. Typically have around three of each and then start to think about the other items you’d like on the board. Choose from the various bread, fruits, veggies, dips, etc… and ensure you have variety without overloading the board with too much.
When you go to build your board, start by layering the cheeses and meats, keeping them apart on the board, with gaps to place all the other foods in place. Fold and shape them into different styles, to give the board an attractive look (again, people start eating with their eyes!) and ensure that as the centerpiece of the board, they are not going to be overshadowed by the accessories to come.
Make things like the fruits and veggies engaging, slice up your grapes, cut the apples, maybe display the veggies in a nice jar or put the olives in a small bowl. If you have space, group the bread and crackers together, but as they take up a lot of space don’t be afraid to put them on the side on a separate bowl or board.
Next, add the various dips you are going to use, maybe a sprinkle of nuts across the board and you’ll start to have a really enticing charcuterie board fit for any dinner party.
One final thought when you look at the visual appeal of your charcuterie board is color. Most of the cheeses and meats will have a similar look, so try and choose the other items to compliment this. For example, green grapes will add more than red ones, don’t be afraid to add editable herbs and any bowls you use, make them bright and attractive.
What about the charcuterie board itself?
The board itself is traditionally made of wood but it doesn’t have to be. The size is the most important part, you want to be able to put out a good variety of meats, cheeses, and the other foods, so it needs to be of a good size for the party you are catering.
Some people might use a cutting board or chopping boards, maybe even large platters. If you do want a more traditional-looking board, then a hardwood would be the choice, an olive wood board has a great look but you might also consider teak or hard maple as good alternatives.
You can have a lot of fun with the board! We have different shaped ones – smaller for just Mr. Misadventures and I, larger ones for groups and small parties. You have different colors or patterns as well.
Some of my favorite charcuterie boards:
- Pottery Barn has a large variety of boards in a wide range of price points. I like this monogram one and LOVE these round and raised ones.
- Mark & Graham also have a monogrammed one in a beautiful French navy blue.
- Wayfair also has a ton of boards!
- Food52 has lovely Dansk boards.
- But probably the BEST place to find unique, customizable, and varied boards designed by small business owners and artists is Etsy.
There are many different types of charcuterie boards depending on where you or your host(ess) is from. What meats they like to eat (or not, vegetarian and vegan…), and what cheeses they enjoy. Ultimately, whatever type of food you prefer, you should be able to put together a charcuterie board that will make a perfect dining or pre-dining experience for any guest.
Where to get great charcuterie in Paris
Of course, it would not be a Misadventures with Andi post without a little bit of Paris sprinkled in! If you are looking to experience authentic charcuterie while visiting, check out these places which are known to have the best charcuterie in Paris.
- Le Garde-Robe (41 Rue de l'Arbre Sec) in the 1st arrondissement.
- Le Barav (6 rue Charles-François Dupuis near Rue de la Corderie) a wine bar in the 3rd arrondissement.
- Les Epiciers (33 rue de Montmorency) also in the 3rd.
- L'Avant Comptoir (3 carrefour de l'Odéon) a Misadventures favorite in the 6th arrondissement.
- Arnaud Nicolas (46, Avenue de la Bourdonnais) in the 7th arrondissement. Arnaud is a Meilleur Ouvrier de France in charcuterie! He has a standalone store at 125, Rue Caulaincourt in the 8th arrondissement.
- Ô Comptoir du Sud-Ouest (19 Rue de Miromesnil) also in the 8th arrondissement.
- It's hard to get into Septime, but much easier to get into the adjacent wine bar with great charcuterie! La Cave de Septime (3 rue Basfroi) in the 11th arrondissement.
- Simone (33 Boulevard Arago) in the 13th arrondissement.
Where to buy great charcuterie in Paris
If you are staying in an apartment in Paris and want to bring some charcuterie “home” for your own apéros or meal, or if you are planning a picnic in one of the many wonderful parks (I've got 9 places for you here), check out these charcuterie shops for some of the best charcuterie you can buy in Paris.
- Caractère de Cochon (42, rue Charlot) in the 3rd arrondissement.
- Maison Verot has several (wonderful) shops in Paris at: 38 rue de Bretagne in the 3rd arrondissement; 3 rue Notre-Dame des Champs in the 6th arrondissement; 60 avenue des Champs-Élysées in the 8th arrondissement; 40 boulevard Haussmann, in the 9th arrondissement; 7 rue Lecourbe, and in the 15th arrondissement.
- Pascal Joly (89 Rue Cambronne) in the 15th arrondissement. Also a Meilleur Ouvrier de France.
How about you? Do you like charcuterie boards? Do you build simple ones or more elaborate ones? Have you done themed charcuterie boards? Do tell!
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