What Is a Charcuterie Board?

We dive into the basics.

May 09, 2023
Summert gathering plate - wooden board with various appetizer snacks - cheese and nuts, fruits and meats for big group of people


Summert gathering plate - wooden board with various appetizer snacks - cheese and nuts, fruits and meats for big group of people

Photo by: Oksana Shufrych/Getty Images

Oksana Shufrych/Getty Images

By Alice K. Thompson for Food Network Kitchen

Alice is a contributing writer and editor at Food Network.

They’re irresistibly colorful and flavorful and they’re popping up everywhere, from your favorite restaurant to your favorite social media feeds. But what exactly are charcuterie boards, and what goes into making one?

What Is a Charcuterie Board?

A charcuterie board is a selection of preserved meats and sometimes cheeses laid out on a board or platter. Sliced bread, crackers, fruit, pickles, spreads and nuts often round out the board for variety and contrasts in flavor and texture. A board is typically served as an hors d’oeuvre or appetizer, although more involved boards can be a casual meal in themselves. Their popularity have spawned a host of creative spin-offs: dessert boards, butter boards, Thanksgiving boards and more share an aesthetic and sense of fun — if not the ingredients — of classic charcuterie boards. These are more accurately described as "grazing boards" rather than charcuterie boards.

Female hands laying the ham on charcuterie board with sausage, fruit and cheese, party cooking, close-up.


Female hands laying the ham on charcuterie board with sausage, fruit and cheese, party cooking, close-up.

Photo by: Natalia Semenova/Getty Images

Natalia Semenova/Getty Images

What Is Charcuterie?

Pronounced sharh-KOO-tuh-ree, charcuterie are cured or preserved meats typically served cold. In France the term refers to both the meats, including paté, galantines and rillettes, and the shop in which these deli-like specialties are sold. Although you’re likely to see cheeses on a charcuterie board, cheeses are technically not charcuterie.

Although the word is French in origin, just about every European country and many other countries around the world have rich charcuterie traditions. Some popular types of charcuterie include sliced cured hams (prosciutto, Iberico, Serrano, country ham), cured sausages (salami, chorizo, mortadella), cured beef (bresaola, pastrami) and various types of paté.

Making A Charcuterie Board How To

Making A Charcuterie Board How To

Photo by: Martha Tinkler

Martha Tinkler

What Should You Put on a Charcuterie Board?

One of the things that makes charcuterie boards so popular is that you can get as complex or as stylishly minimal as you like. There really are no rules, although most successful boards include a few elements that balance flavors and textures. Here's a quick cheat-sheet on some of the most popular items to consider when planning your board. For more guidance, head over to our recipe How to Build a Perfect Charcuterie Board (pictured above).

Meats: Thin slices of cured meat are at the heart of a classic board. Hams like prosciutto, Iberico or Virginia ham are favorites, as are sliced sausages like salami, chorizo and mortadella. Patés, terrines and rillettes can also be included for variety.

Cheeses: Sliced or cubed cheeses are the most popular secondary item on charcuterie boards. A mix of colors and styles is usually the most successful: full-flavored varieties like Parmesan, smoked gouda and Manchego; blue cheeses like Gorgonzola and Maytag Blue; soft cheeses like goat cheese, mozzarella and feta and soft-ripened cheeses like Brie and Camembert.

Bread and crackers: Slices of baguette or Italian bread are one of the simplest ways to go, but you can also add sweet breads like raisin-walnut, flatbreads like naan or focaccia or any number of crackers or crostini.

Dips or spreads: Small bowls of hummus, yogurt dip, soft cheeses, mustard, honey and jam or chutney are excellent for a contrast in flavor and texture.

Pickles and olives: A sour element is welcome on a board. You can buy interesting vegetable pickles or make your own quick pickles. You can serve olives straight from the package or spend a few minutes making marinated olives.

Fruit: Fresh fruit will bring a burst of color and sweet flavor to charcuterie boards. Grapes, sliced pear or apple, figs and berries are popular, but you can also use tropical fruits like pineapple and kiwi. Dried fruits such as apricots, dates and cranberries bring concentrated sweetness and chew.

Nuts: Crunchy nuts are one of the most successful flavor and texture contrasts for your board. If your grocery has a bulk-foods section you’re in luck: You can pick out small quantities of several different nuts for variety. Raw or toasted nuts are great, or you can branch out with store-bought or homemade spiced nuts.

Photo by: Heather Baird SprinkleBakes.com

Heather Baird SprinkleBakes.com

Can You Build a Charcuterie Board on a Budget?

The good news is that you can feed a crowd with a charcuterie board for about what you’d pay for a couple of bags of chips and a few dips. Skip the pricy imported meats and cheeses, take a pass on expensive crackers or fancy spreads and you can still serve a gorgeous board with lots of color and variety for a refreshingly low price. Up for a challenge? You could even make a dollar-store charcuterie board (pictured above) that’s still fun and impressive. And anyone who eats solo at home will be inspired by these charcuterie boards for one; they’re a delicious, economical alternative to takeout.

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