Charcuterie 101

When we wanted to learn how to make an impressive cheese board for parties, we turned to specialty foods purveyor Sam Starr. Sam can always be counted on to present a balanced, thoughtful, and delicious array. She walked us through selecting and combining our components, breaking it down into simple rules of thumb that instantly gave us the confidence to volunteer for charcuterie duty.  Read on for her guidelines to making a perfect charcuterie board every time. 






How to Make a Charcuterie Board

A reference guide to creating a delightful charcuterie board for your holiday celebration.

Charcuterie Board Components


There are so many options for cheeses that it can get overwhelming. To make it simple, focus on having variety in textures and milk types. Depending on the size of your board you should have one each of cow, sheep, and goat options present with soft rind, firm, and hard cheeses in the mix. Flavors should range between nutty and mild to funky and unique.

Rule of thumb: 1 cow, 1 sheep, 1 goat; 1 soft, 1 firm, 1 hard.


When choosing meats for your boards, the colors, flavors, and sizes should all vary. Choose different sizes of meat such as small and large salamis, then toss whole-muscle cuts such as cured deli ham and prosciutto into the mix. The flavors of the meats can be paired with the cheeses or chosen for their own unique qualities, but always aim to have something spicy, something smoky, and something unexpected.

Rule of thumb: 1 small salami, 1 large salami, 1 whole-muscle meat


Dress up any board with the a wide assortment of accompaniments or keep it simple with just a few. Organic boards will call for things to be spread all over the board, whereas a more composed board will have things in individual containers. When choosing breads remember to go for multiple colors and texture—for example, baguette, sourdough, and rye. You can really play when selecting accompaniments, but you can't go wrong with Spanish figs, Marcona almonds, mustards, honeycomb, caramelized pecans, olives, and cornichons.

Rule of thumb: Variety: salty, sweet, spicy, acidic, savory; pickled, dried, fresh, soft, crunchy

"When choosing meats and cheeses, variety is the spice of life," Sam advises. You could focus on the meats of one region (Italy, France, Spain, or domestic) or create a spread of your favorites. Try new things, take risks, and offer contrasts.  

A lot of people get hung up on quantities. Sam suggests having one ounce of cheese per person and 1-2 slices of meat per person to ensure everyone gets a taste of each item. If people will be waiting for the main course for an extended period of time, err on the side of abundance.

Charcuterie Board Guidelines

Small or large, this is what you do.

1 Meat, 1 Cheese. 
Keep it simple and elegant.

Cheese: Choose a crowd pleaser like a semi-hard cow's milk cheese.
Meat: Opt for an uncontroversial whole-muscle cut. Serrano ham is a good choice.
Accompaniments: Marcona almonds, Castelvetrano olives, sel gris crackers 

2 Meats, 2 Cheeses. 
Add a little variation in texture and color. 

Cheese: Think opposites. One soft goat cheese and one hard cheese made from cow's milk.
Meat: One whole muscle and one salami will please the eye and palate. Hit different tasting notes by pairing a cold smoked and spiced ham with a salami boasting bright flavors like lemon and pistachio. 
Accompaniments: Caramelized pecans, French green olives, dried apricots and dates, baguette and whole wheat flatbread crackers.  
4 Meats, 4 Cheeses...and all the goodies. 
Go all out.

Cheese: With more room, you can hit every group of milk variety and texture. For example, you might choose a hard sheep's milk cheese, a semi-firm goat cheese, a soft cow's milk cheese, and a blue cheese.
Meats: All sizes and even variation in meats can come in to play. An example spread would include a whole-muscle spiced beef, a whole-muscle smoky pork, a large pork salami with fragrant fennel, and a small salami with the flavors of mole.
Accompaniments: Marcona almonds, caramelized pecans, dried Pajerero figs, cornichons, and olives in a few varieties like lucques, kalamata, and Cerginola olives. Add condiments of green peppercorn mustard and membrillo. Breads could include sel gris crackers, salted almond crackers, and a baguette. 

Photos courtesy of Breanne McMahon

Creating a Vegan Charcuterie Board

When creating a vegan board, you want substance and options. A wealth of dried fruits and pickled vegetables will help build the board and take place of the cheese and meats. Include plenty of accompaniments such as Marcona almonds, caramelized pecans, Pajerero figs, cornichons, olives, green peppercorn mustard, and membrillo.

Charcuterie Holiday Recipes Savory

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