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Build The Best Charcuterie Board

Charcuterie boards are a fun way to incorporate a dynamic element to your dinner party or engage guests at your home. They are purposeful for you to utilize before or after dinner, or as an appetizer with wine before going out to eat. They are also plentiful, allowing you to provide variety, and can be made quickly, with flexible ingredients that are easily found and accessible at most grocery stores. Best of all, it’s an affordable option for an appetizer you can easily spend a lot of money on at a restaurant, when you can easily craft on your own and enjoy for days.

We recently held a virtual event for several of our communities where residents had a chance to learn how to build their own charcuterie board from home with tips, tricks, and a thorough presentation from Wine Director and Sommelier Jenn Knowles. With over 25 years in the luxury hotel and restaurant industry, Jenn has extensive knowledge on wine and cheese pairings, presentation, and all the hosting tips to help you enjoy this great and engaging appetizer at home. She shared with us extensive information about setting up your very own charcuterie board, along with all her recommendations for wine pairings and traditional accompaniments.

Keep in Mind Before Getting Started

Charcuterie boards can often become over-complicated when people put too many exotic varieties, and over-provide or crowd the platter. Often times, it is unclear what the different offerings are, and it can be challenging to meet dietary restrictions and create separations to ensure items don’t mix-up, or taste preferences such as spicy items don’t blend over. For this reason, it’s essential to not be concerned so much with making everything fit onto one board or tray, but rather to designate multiple spaces for the varying items you plan to serve. Keeping wrappers and replenishments nearby can keep guests who may be ingredient conscious at ease, and also allow you to quickly restock your board as you run low on certain things.

Being cognizant of COVID,  there will likely remain a limited level of comfort for people sharing across a communal meet and cheese board. To help with this in a group setting, providing different utensils such as miniature plastic forks, toothpicks and mini serving spoons and individual homemade mason jars or flip-top containers made for honey, can allow guests to better portion out individual servings. 

Tools You’ll Need

Primary tools you’ll need for your wine and cheese board include: 

  • Mini chalkboards at local craft stores are an affordable way to create fun and fancy labels that will also provide all the highlights your guests will need to know about each item on your board
  • A bowl beside you will allow you to easily consolidate extra trash as you are assembling  
  • A warm glass of water, specifically in a plastic cup, will allow you to periodically dip and clean off your knife as you work (Glass chards can get onto your knife if you use a glass cup and are tapping the glass with silverware)
  • Cutting board and tea towels to help in your prep
  • Anywhere from 1-3 boards to display your meat and cheese varieties, along with a separate plate or tray for toasted and plain breads (See recommendations from our Sommelier for boards and utensil sets you can buy online today at the end of this post)
  • Several small ramekins or smaller bowls, and/or a diving tray for fruit
  • 2-3 primary knives used for cutting, including a large one for cutting fruit, and a mini butcher knife to help shave cheese, and if you have access to one, a forked knife can help you pull cheese away from the rind for some varieties (Utensil sets can typically run an average of $15 dollars. See the end of the post for recommendations)
  • Standard Butter knives and cocktail forks are perfectly fine as well if you don’t have the means or access to spruce up your utensils
  • A set of small sugar cube tongs can be a great utensil for serving smaller pieces as well
  • A variety of different utensils for your guests such as miniature plastic forks, toothpicks and mini serving spoons
  • Individual homemade mason jars or flip top containers for guests to portion out individual servings
  • Any sort of arrangement of bowls for things like nuts, allowing you to provide 2-3 individual varieties nearby, but separate from each other and any other foods. With food allergies, minimizing the odds of mixing potential triggers for food sensitivities is something to always consider

Bread and Cracker Selections

For the bread and crackers, you’ll want to select about 2 breads and 3-4 different types of crackers. Starting with the bread, you can opt to do a simple white or wheat bread and a french loaf or ciabatta roll from the bread section at your store or a local bakery. To toast your bread to perfection, first cut the roll or loaf in half, then quarter it. Lightly brush some olive oil salt and pepper on one side, and put on a non-stick foil baking sheet at 400 degrees in the oven until the bread is lightly browned or the aroma is apparent. Besides toasted and regular bread, it’s great to include a couple popular crackers along with a couple specialty crackers. Wheat thins and triscuits (half and half portions) are great options for your crackers, along with selecting a couple unique boxes to accompany the other half of the crackers to provide options.

Meat Selections and Roasted Garlic Spread

Dry Cured Salami (with peppercorns if you can find it) is great, along with Prosciutto, Bresaola, and Jamon Serrano. Roasted garlic can make an easy, great condiment and can be made along with your toasted bread to go with your meats in just a couple steps. You’ll simply take your garlic bulb, cut off the top stubby piece, and wrap in non-stick tin foil for 400 degrees at 45 minutes. Afterwards, when you squeeze the cloves, the garlic easily comes out in a mash-able consistency. You can also add chili flakes for added spice, or just salt and pepper in lieu of a spicy meat option.

Cheese Varieties With Wine Pairings and Popular Accompaniments

You’ll generally pick out an assortment generally of about 5 cheeses. Here are the top 5 types our Sommelier recommends:

A ‘Crottin’ style Goat Milk cheese is usually a great texture, providing a slight chalkiness and creamy finish, balanced with some acidity. There are a lot of Mediterranean and French goat cheese varieties, but the U.S. has recently been gaining popularity as well. Her top recommendation is the Vermont Creamery ‘Bijou’Aged Goat Cheese Crottin, 4 oz. Pairing recommendations include dried apricots and golden or sultana raisins. 

Sommelier Wine Pairing Recommendation: A Sauvignon Blanc or Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley of France are great choices.

Sheep Milk such as Manchego are generally easy to find and provide a macadamia nuttiness with an herbal finish. Marcona Almonds, which are Spanish oilive oil fried almonds found at the cheese counter can be a perfect pairing for this particular type of cheese. 

Sommelier Wine Pairing Recommendation: A red wine made with Monastrell from the Jumilla region of Spain.

A Triple Cream Cheese made from Cow Milk such as a Delice de Bourgogne or Saint Andre allows a more mild option for people who aren’t sure what they love, and can easily be intimidated by unfamiliar cheese varieties. Cream cheeses also tend to be easier to spread. These pairs are accompanied well with strawberries, raspberries or pomegranate seeds. You can easily make a great strawberry spread by simply coring the berries and simmering over the stovetop with a tablespoon of sugar, salt and cracked pepper to taste, and adding a splash of white balsamic vinegar until the consistency becomes syrupy. 

Sommelier Wine Pairing Recommendation: Bubbly Cremant de Bourgogne which is a sparkling wine similar to champagne but not from the same region as Champagne. 

Gouda is another popular choice, but it helps to specifically select one that is aged, caramelly and nutty with a crunch rather than something smoked. Anything from 18 – 60 months is ideal and allows a great experience if you are looking for a more rich taste. This cheese is best accompanied with toasted or raw pecans and honey. 

Sommelier Wine Pairing Recommendation: A Tripel-style beer actually works well here in lieu of wine, with richness and acidity to balance out the tones of the cheese. 

Blue Cheese is hard to go wrong with. In our Sommelier’s experience, Gorgonzola Dolce tends to be a popular well-liked selection, and is softer in pungency. As an alternative, a traditional gorgonzola with a slightly creamy texture can also be used. Both of these options pair well with apple slices, pears, figs or jams and walnuts. 

Sommelier Wine Pairing Recommendation: Big Red Wines that are rich and more acidic such as a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Cabernet are classic. A Sangiovese or Chianti can also pair well.

Instructions For Assembling Your Charcuterie Board

1. Start with your signage so you can make sure you are properly labeling as you work and don’t get confused once you start cutting. As you create the signs, you can include the name of the cheese, the type of cheese (semi firm, firm, hard, double cream, triple cream etc.) and what type of milk it’s from (Vermont creamery for example). If you are going to do wine pairings, this is a great spot to include the wine. If you are not using a wine pairing, this is also the perfect spot to list your accompaniment or include your accompaniment along with your wine pairing. 

2. The first food item you will start with for assembly are your cheeses (remember to keep labels nearby as you work!). If you have two separate boards to work with, you can use a smaller board for your triple cream and goat cheese varieties, and a larger board for the rest of the cheeses, crackers and accompaniments. If you just have one larger board, you can keep your most mild and creamy choices closer to the front of the board, with the more firm selections in the back. For presentation of round, creamier cheeses such as the Goat Milk, having a larger half beside two smaller quarters or a variety of portion sizes adds appeal, while you can cut the more firm cheeses into pie shapes, wedges, or even cubes. Keep all the cheeses primarily to the middle section of the board. 

3. Start to layer on your crackers to the left and right side of your primary board. A separate board or plate for your bread and toasted breads can be paired to the left or right of the cheese tray. 

4. Next, you can place your condiments for the cheeses such as jams, jellies and honey close by in small ramekins or mini bowls beside your primary tray for cheese, towards the back ideally. 

5. For your meats, providing a separate board helps for people who prefer to not combine meat with cheese, or try the meat separately. As you start to assemble, pull apart larger slices if they are larger than bite-size. Roll each piece of meat into small bundles. You can start to layer them into different rows or any pattern you like, as long as you keep each variety together. If you have roasted garlic, this is a great spot to include it. Be sure to include another serving utensil on your meat board or platter.

6. Finally, you can add all of your accompaniments that go with the platter. Petit salads of light mixed greens, carrot shreds and olive oil, and Hericots Verts (french green beans) can work as additional accompaniments for the appetizer in addition to the individual fruit and nut pairings recommended for each variety of cheese. The Hericots Verts specifically, or something such as  bowls of arugula salt and pepper can also help with pallet cleansing. Providing the rest of your accompaniments off to the side in ramekins, creme brulee dishes or shallow glasses allows your cheese trays to remain uncrowded. A separate fruit tray divider can also help with presentation. For larger fruit pieces such as an apricot, you may consider cutting the fruit into smaller pieces that are more suitable bite sizes. 

To have access to great virtual events like this in your community, be sure to contact us about our different services and packages! To learn more about wine or our Sommelier for this event, you can visit Jenn Knowles online today.

Meat & Cheese Board Recommendations You Can Buy Today:

Bamboo Platter With 4-Piece Knife Set

Organic Bamboo Platter With 4-Piece Knife Set & 3 Sauce Dipping Bowls

16×13 Wood & Knife Set for Wine, Cheese, Meat and Fruit

Catherine Rotman