How to Build a Giant Cheese and Charcuterie Board on a Budget
Yes, you can create one of these beautiful (and delicious!) boards for under $25.
You’ve probably seen impressive looking cheese and charcuterie boards on social media. And let me tell you, they’re just as impactful in person. Friends and family go nuts over the pretty, giant arrangements — much more so than they do over traditional cheese boards. I know from experience: I’ve served them at many special occasions, from birthday parties to game-day gatherings.
The great news is that they’re quite easy to make. The not-so-great news is that the cost of all of those ingredients adds up quickly. Cheese, charcuterie, nuts and dried fruits are all expensive items on their own, and when you put them all together in large quantities, the price of a single board is enough to give you sticker shock. Like, upwards of $150. Luckily, I’ve figured out a few tricks to dramatically slash that number down and still put together a huge, stunning board.
What to Buy:
The golden rule is to take up real-estate with prettily arranged, less-expensive items. Also, don’t feel the need to go to a fancy and expensive store. You can find most of these items in any groery store. Shout out to Trader Joe’s, where I picked up the ingredients for the board pictured. Here's what you should get:
- A couple fresh centerpiece fruits. They’ll draw your eye with a pop of color and fill up space. Fresh, larger fruits (like the papaya that I used in this board) are typically less expensive than dried fruits and berries. A bunch of grapes is another natural choice, but feel free to choose something unexpected, like long spears of cantaloupe, watermelon sticks or pomegranate halves.
- One hard cheese and two soft cheeses. I’ve found that on a giant board, three cheeses are enough, regardless of the crowd size. I’ve also found that people eat more soft cheese than hard cheese. Typically, I buy one sharp cheddar (my go to is Trader Joe’s Unexpected Cheddar), one brie cheese and one other soft cheese.
- Turn an inexpensive soft cheese into cheese into dip. For my third soft cheese, I often buy something super inexpensive and turn it into a dip. In this board, I bought an herbed goat cheese log ($2), whipped it up with olive oil and topped it with salt and pepper. Boom, instant bougie-ness.
- A variety pack of charcuterie. Skip the deli counter, the big pack of imported prosciutto that’ll cost an arm and a leg and the fancy logs of cured salami. Instead, buy a variety pack of charcuterie, which will give you the most bang for your buck. Sometimes they’re labeled as snack packs. If any of the dried meat comes wrapped around cheese sticks, unfurl the meat and save the cheese as a snack for later (they’re a dead giveaway that you bought an inexpensive pack).
- A small baguette and/or one type of crackers. Thinly sliced bread takes up a lot of room on the board, looks elegant, and usually costs less than buying breadsticks or crackers. If you’re worried about filling up space on your board, you can also buy a box of crackers because it’s less expensive to cover area with crackers than meat and cheese. Crackers that contain lots of colors and textures photograph the best.
How to Build:
The key to building a beautiful cheese board is fanning out your ingredients and snaking the fans around each other. I place ingredients down in clusters, leaving as little space between each cluster as possible. Sometimes I even tuck ingredients partially under others in order to eliminate small gaps.
- Start with that fruit centerpiece. Just make sure to prep it so people can eat it easily. For example, I peeled and sliced up half of the papaya. If you were using a pomegranate, pluck the seeds from their membranes and put them back into their shells so people can eat them easily. Place the fruit in the center of the board and start building concentrically around it.
- Place several small bowls or containers of jam. Bowls and jars take up space and add aesthetically pleasing height variation. I rummage around in my refrigerator and pantry fill them with whatever I happen to have on hand, instead of going out and spending money. This often ends up being honey, grainy mustard and olives or roasted salted nuts.
- Slice and arrange your cheese. I usually cut the brie into cubes or long triangles, and the cheddar into long thin rectangles. Carefully fan out the rectangularly sliced cheese on the board. Feel free to curve the fan shape you’ve created.
- Place the bread and crackers down in fans. Fan away, people! I like putting them in several different places on the board to create visual balance.
- Lastly, arrange the cured meat. Because you’ll have relatively little cured meat, arrange it so it’s as fluffy and airy as possible. Shake out each prosciutto then gently bunch it up. If the salami is large, fold it in half.