I love charcuterie & cheese boards. Not only are they a perfect weeknight meal after a long day (when I don’t want to cook), but they are also perfect for entertaining guests during dinner parties (they snack- while I finish cooking!). What makes them great? The variety of options, from meats to cheeses to accouterments, to all the decorative ways they can be plated- neatly stacked or tiled, piled up and clustered, or even organized into a fun visual or pattern. Oh – and they are the perfect accompaniment to alcohol (key for dinner parties, in my opinion), since the last thing anyone wants is an unexpected sleepover.
One of my all-time favorite go-to boards is an Italian-themed board, great with a bottle of Italian wine (white- pinot grigio or other dry Italian white; red- nebbiolos, sangiovese, or even nerello mascalese), or even a couple of negronis.
To make a great Italian board, I usually keep the following stocked in my fridge & pantry, ready to go at a moment’s notice. Feel free to mix and match and make your own board with some of these ideas:
Meats & Cheeses
1. Sopressata: Mild salami, made with garlic and red chili flakes. The flavor is mild, despite the red chili flakes, and it is a great staple as it pairs well with most wines and cocktails. It is also a great inclusion/starting point for the unadventurous types who first gravitate towards the things they know.
2. Finnochiona: mild salami, made with fennel. Don’t be turned off by the fennel- this flavor enhances pork like no other and is a key ingredient in the seasonings for the Italian delicacy, porchetta. In salami form, the flavor produces a tasty bite, while still staying mild in flavor.
3. Coppa (Mild or Spicy): Typically a fattier cut, this one will be similar to prosciutto, in the thin layer of fat up top, but will be shorter lengthwise, and have a more dense flavor. Mild coppa is great on any board and is a distinctive alternative to the more traditional salamis. Spicy coppa is good if you tend to like spicier cuts, and don’t care much about matching with your alcohol (mild = entertaining; spicy = for you)
4. Pecorino (Toscano or Tartufo): Sheep’s milk cheese is a must-have on an Italian board. Not only is it generally mild and flavorful on its own, but it will be a great compliment to any of the charcuteries on your board. Toscano is a solid choice, though if available, go for the Tartufo (i.e truffle). This addition of subtle truffle flavor will elevate your board and have guests fighting for the last pieces. Generally semi-firm in texture, however, if you want variety, also try one that’s aged. It will have a much firmer texture than the younger one (like parmesan) and will have more of a dense, nutty flavor.
Crackers and/or Bread
I usually have a couple of different options, depending on what I have handy. Feel free to add as many or as little as you see fit:
5. Thin Crisps or Light Crackers: Something light, to not detract from the meats & cheeses
6. Fruit & Nut Crisps: Different texture, and great with jam or honey
7. Thinly Sliced Baguette: 1/8 in. slices if fresh; 1/4 in. slices if slightly hard, toasted if possible.
8. Breadsticks: I love putting out a handful of breadsticks off to the side for people to munch on casually. These are also great when entertaining, as guests can just grab one as they are making the rounds.
The following items will elevate any board. Not necessary, but great for filling in spaces & gaps on the board:
9. Castelvetrano Olives: My all-time favorite olives, these are bright green and have more of a nutty flavor than black olives.
10. Marcona Almonds: Not exactly Italian, but Marcona Almonds are perfect on any board. Look for truffle seasoned ones, though avoid rosemary seasoned (they can be too pungent, and may clash with other components)
11. Dried Cranberries or Cherries: Dried tart fruit are my favorites for boards, as they add subtle sweetness without being too overpowering. These will also pair well with wines or cocktails.
12. Apricot Almond Jam, Fig Orange Marmalade, or Honey: Having a little bit of jam or honey will add another layer of specialness to your board, and guests will love trying it with the different meats and cheeses (Note: don’t put out too much, as you will most likely toss whatever is left. I like using a small shot glass, and filling it halfway, with a knife on the side.)
13. When in doubt, go mild – Mild flavors tend to be best for entertaining boards, as they will pair well with everyone’s drinks of choice. The last thing you want is the pinot noir drinker taking a bite of blue cheese or spicy coppa, ruining their palate for your main course!
14. Shop ahead & save for a rainy day – Next time you’re at the market, pick up some charcuterie and cheese and keep them in your fridge. Generally, they will last for a few weeks and will be a lifesaver on those nights when you’re exhausted and just want to chill with some wine and Netflix.
15. Have fun – There is no right or wrong way to set up a board. If you want to be precise- be precise, and keep everything lined up in their own stacks or piles. If you want to be messy- do it! Mix and match piles, and scatter nuts and dried fruit to cover the gaps. The beauty of a great board is the quality of your ingredients and the fact that you put together a delicious treat in a matter of minutes!
Honestly, you can’t go wrong with a charcuterie board. Put your favorite things, add some new things. People will love it regardless. It works great for entertaining, and sometimes, I’ll even have charcuterie for dinner when I’m too tired to make something. 😉
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