Never underestimate the power of cheese + friends and family! Charcuterie boards are having quite the moment in 2020, and rightfully so! Not only are these boards gorgeous to look at but SO easy to prepare when you follow these few simple steps. They key here: don’t overthink it, use simple ingredients and have fun with it.
Elevate your holiday spread with these few tips and tricks and all of the ingredients you can find at your local Trader Joe’s, Aldi, or even a specialty store. The beauty of these boards is that there are little nibbles of deliciousness for EVERYONE! Totally kid-friendly, exciting for adults, and can be tailored to any allergy or diet.
So you may be asking yourself, how do I even say charcuterie? char·cu·te·rie
And what the heck is it? Don’t be intimated by this expensive sounding word…charcuterie is simply just the French word for cooking and the art of preparing meats like bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, pates, confit and pork sausages. In the United States, salami, prosciutto, capicola and speck are just a few of the more popular choices you will come across.
Charcuterie boards often consist of a variety of uncured meats, artisan cheeses, assorted crackers, fresh and dried fruit, nuts, pickles and/or olives, chocolates, cookies, and we love to include some fresh floral elements for pops of color.
All of the ingredients used for the board shown here were found at Trader Joe’s (where are my Trader Joe’s fans at?!) and can easily be swapped for some of your favorite tried and true products.
Tips for preparing your charcuterie board:
- When building your board, its important to choose a vessel that can hold meats and cheese for a long period of time without actually damaging the product. We suggest using any wood, ceramic, marble, or slate pieces to build your perfect Thanksgiving spread on. Any sort of metal tray or piece may change the acidity level of the meats and cheeses as they sit thus effecting the quality of the end product.
- Color, textures, patters ARE your friend here! Fruits, dips, pickles and olives, cookies, and a variety of cheeses keep these boards colorful, playful, and interesting to everyone!
- DON’T OVERTHINK IT! Perfect placement is not welcomed here—there is beauty in chaos and a very natural looking board. I personally love asymmetry so I never want the board to look the same on all sides, which also keeps things exciting and new. Charcuterie boards are almost like a game of I Spy…you’re constantly finding new flavors and combinations each time you come back.
For a four- to six-person board, I typically choose three to four meats to feature which usually include an Italian sliced salami like Calabrese or Italian dry, Prosciutto, and Capicolo. Trader Joe’s carries a three-meat, six-ounce pack that is pre-sliced and has all the variety you would need. For this size board, I would suggest using one pack of the deli meat and some sliced hard salami such as Columbus brand dry salami.
The more the merrier here! Four to five cheese varieties is the goal, and I always go with one cheese that is my favorite, a soft cheese such as a Brie or goat, a fan favorite cheese like Trader Joe’s Unexpected Cheddar or Rosemary Asiago, and a new cheese to introduce to the group such as Horseradish Cheddar or a bright and tangy blue.
- Fresh Fruits
Grapes are a fan favorite as well as fresh berries such as strawberries and raspberries, but the seasonal fruits such as pears, persimmons, and mandarin oranges are so lovely and can definitely hold their own on a charcuterie board.
The one to one method is a good one to follow here, for every one type of cheese, pick one cracker to accompany it. Some of my favorites from Trader Joes are: Everything But the Bagel Crackers, Cheddar Cheese Sticks, Cracker Assortment, Pistachio Pomegranate Crisps, and Gluten Free Sweet Potato Crisps. These crackers are perfect for snacking beyond your charcuterie board and are sure to become your everyday favorites as well.
- Dried Elements
Nuts are a must and a great way to get festive with a holiday variety such as rosemary assorted nuts or a chocolate covered almond. Fun things like dried and candied orange slices and candied ginger add an unexpected bright bite and the classics such as apricots and dried mandarins never go out of style. A handful of these babies are the perfect addition to a super sharp or rich cheese.
You may be asking, chocolate and cheese, really? YES, yes, really! And the darker the chocolate the better in this case. This combination is not only classic but necessary in any charcuterie board. I love the Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Lovers Bar and dark chocolate covered pretzels for the perfect combination of savory and sweet.
- Pickles, Olives, and Dips
Where are my pickle and olive lovers at? I mean, really, I’m just here for the pickles and olives—no shame! A bright green Italian olive or cornichon pickle is a fantastic way to create a bright and much needed texture amongst a soft cheese and crisp cracker. If you’re building a board ahead of time you can always place these items in little bowls on your board so they don’t create any additional moisture and sog out your crackers. Mustards, jams, jellies, and soft cheese dips are also fun additions to amp up your board status or even make your boards “theme driven”.
- Festive Bits
Every season Trader Joe’s carries some amazing holiday elements that are sure to knock your guests’ socks off and make you look like the hostess-with-the-mostest! I love love love Trader Joe’s Mini Gingerbread People, the Peppermint Pretzel Slims and their Peppermint Meringues! Talk about major heart eyes…I’m telling you these are a must.
I always suggest starting with a focal point for your board, whether it be a pile of grapes, freshly sliced pears, a yummy dip, or a pumpkin for show. This helps act as an anchor for building from.
Now hear me out on this next step, the meat wall—essential in any charcuterie building in my opinion! Outlining one side of the board with little bites of folded meats is my idea of a meat wall, and also another great anchor to hold items in place when building your masterpiece. Simply take a round cut of salami or capicola and fold in half, then in half again making small triangles from the sliced meats. Place vertically alongside one of the board edges and voilà! You have yourself a meat wall!
Allow color and texture to take the front seat with this next step: cheese. Laying out your cheeses in different orders and directions allows for a natural flow of the board, and little pockets to pop crackers and other goodies into. I use the grapes as an achor for at least one cheese to sit next to, usually spread a shingle sliced cheese across the bottom and a crumbled cheese near an edge for easy grabbing. Have fun with this and don’t overthink it!
Next use assorted crackers to fill your board. I like to turn and stack crackers to create depth and play with color and texture. This is also a perfect time to add in your seasonal elements, nuts, fruits, and chocolate. Have fun with it, get weird, make it funky and create some fun combinations with placement! Don’t be afraid to pile and stack things—more is more here, people!
With these tips and tricks I am sure you’ll turn into a board-building-addict and charcuterie connoisseur in no time!
Stay tuned for more fun with Cat from Thyme & Honey!
Thank you to Milk Means More for helping us discover the benefits of cheese and dairy!
Dairy foods taste great and can add versatility to your plate, but did you know they also deliver a unique package of essential nutrients important for good health?
Enjoying dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt as part of a healthy diet is associated with all kinds of health bonuses, including reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Get to know dairy and the many reasons why you should enjoy it throughout the day by exploring these resources: