Cutting boards aren't just for slicing and dicing. Hand me a pretty one and it's guaranteed that I'll find a way to cover it with delicious and beautiful foods and use the whole thing as an entertaining centerpiece. I've made cheese boards and brunch boards, but it's about time to get into the meat of it. Cured meat that is.
Charcuterie boards are, dare we say it, the best of all boards. Between the salame and pate, pickles and mustard, they've got everything our salt-teeth crave. And they're totally easy to put together, too. Here are Southern Kitchen's five easy steps to building your best charcuterie board ever.
The best way to create an awesome charcuterie board is, no surprise, to choose high-quality meats. If you're able, head to a specialty butcher shop where charcuterie is made in-house and sliced to order. Here in Atlanta, we love The Spotted Trotter in Kirkwood because owners Kevin and Megan Ouzts take the time to source their meat responsibly and make everything from scratch. (I promise you can taste the difference.) But if your charcuterie shopping is limited to grocery stores, never fear. Try to head to a store that has a butcher counter so that you can get your meats sliced to order, but in a pinch, you can use pre-sliced meat from grocery stores like Publix and Whole Foods. If you happen to purchase something that looks a little dry, you can always brush it with a little olive oil to wake it back up.
Once you've found your shop of choice, look to purchase a mixture of textures and flavors. As with cheese boards, you'll want to pick out your charctuerie in odd numbers. Three, five and seven are your targets. If you're serving a small group, you'll only need three different styles; add more as your party grows. I like to choose both cured and fresh items — think salame, pate (or rilletes) and perhaps a dried meat, such as jerky. Mixing ground (salame) and whole muscle charcuterie (like prosciutto or coppa) is also smart. When in doubt, though, ask your butcher! They'll have plenty of suggestions for you, and may even introduce you to a type of charcuterie you haven't yet discovered.
Pick out your board
When you get home, pull out all of your cutting boards and platters. Which boards will really help your charcuterie pop? For most meats, a lighter colored platter or cutting board will be your best choice — salami and pates are generally a darker shade of brown, so you'll want to make sure you've picked out a contrasting color for your display.
And yes, you can certainly use a large platter to build your board. Charcuterie is almost always sold sliced, so you won't have to worry about guests chipping your best China with a cheese knife.
Start your layout with the VIPs
To make sure your charcuterie board is balanced and beautiful, add components in stages. I always like to start with my VIPs: the meat itself. Create zones for each type. I like to lay salame out in flat slices, usually in a diagonal line so that I can fit the most in as possible. Any potted or terrined meats should go smack dab in the center. If you're serving a jerky, be kind to your guests and go ahead and shred it into manageable pieces. (Plus is looks so much better corralled into a pretty pile.) Finally, for big ticket items, such as coppa, add extra volume by folding the slices into in half and fanning them on top of each other — you'll probably have less of it, so you'll want to give it some volume.
Add in flavorful accoutrements
No charcuterie board is complete without tangy, spicy dips, spreads and nibbles. I like to spread these out in empty spaces between the meat. Runnier accotrements, like some mustards and jellies, should be plated inside a small bowl or ramekin. Solid nibbles, like pickles and fruit, can go directly on the board itself.
Here, I've used spicy mustard (top left), pepper jelly (bottom right), locally-made cucumber pickles (center) and sauerkraut (center), but feel free to drop in dried fruit, such as cherries, and pickled carrots and radishes for a pop of color. Want to make any of these yourself? Here are some great recipes to get you started:
Scatter on the final touches
Of course, you'll also want to add bread and/or crackers to your board. Squeeze them into any empty space you've got — and its totally fine for them to spill out over the sides of the board (#cascadingstaricaseofcarbs). Garnish the board with some fresh herbs for a pop of color. I've used thyme here, but another hearty green herb, such as rosemary or sage, will also work great. Now's the time to also add in any serving utensils you need. Make sure to have a separate knife or spoon for each and every scoopable item on the board — no one wants mustard in their pepper jelly.
Now invite over all of your friends (or don't) and dig in!