What’s a picnic without red grapes, sharp cheese and some breadsticks? Truth is, there are a lot of ways to put together a charcuterie board.
What is a charcuterie board? How do you even pronounce that?
Charcuterie actually means a selection of meats (see also: charcuterie store). When put together on a “board” or plate, meats are placed with other foods that complement them.
For example, there will be meats such as salami and prosciutto, along with cheeses, honey, crackers or bread, grapes, berries, dips and spreads. YUM.
The first one I made and enjoyed was with my roommates, sitting along the patch of green grass next to the Arno River in Florence, Italy. We laid out an extra bed sheet from our apartment that inevitability became the designated, grass-stained sheet for all future picnics.
Here’s a look into what I featured on my own charcuterie board, plus my favorite, authentic Italian foods that will surprise your friends.
Unless you’re vegetarian, this is a great way to add protein to your board (and try new things!). We’re talking’ prosciutto, salami, sopressata, speck and even a spicy spreadable sausage (it’s good, trust me!).
Now, what are all these words you’re throwing at me?? What’s sopressata?
These are all cured meats. Most of these are forms of pork, from different parts of the animal that are cured or cooked in unique ways. Just think: bacon in different forms.
Prosciutto is a favorite, although I recognize it can be weird to try for the first time. When I didn’t know what it was, I called it the “mystery salty meat” (I’m not kidding). I was in quarantine for 2 weeks and got food delivered to my apartment, which was occasionally labelled in illegible writing. Who knew what I was eating? I kind of forced myself to eat it, despite not being a huge fan of ham. Months later, my favorite sandwich contains prosciutto, cream cheese and arugula – and it’s delicious.
Prosciutto and salami are great to try with cheeses, or put them on bread. Prosciutto is not great on crackers (and don’t let the Italians catch you doing such a vial thing), but it tastes amazing on sandwiches.
The same goes for anything else – try it, maybe not by itself at first time, unless you’ve already indulged in similar foods before. And don’t shoot it down after one or two bites! They’re great with certain cheeses, while others may not be the best pairings.
My absolute weakness.
White cheddar is an easy cheese to start with if you don’t have an acquired taste for sharp, dry or strongly flavored cheeses.
My only request (it’s kind of an “ick,” if you know what I mean) is to not buy one of those pre-sliced cheese packs from the grocery store. Unless you’re on a budget, these are not ideal (respectfully). You actually end up spending more money on these than you think, because you’re paying for 1) the packaging, and 2) the easiness that comes with pre-sliced cheese.
Grab a couple small blocks of cheese, depending on what you like. One or two non-sharp cheeses (a white cheddar, mozzarella, brie, asiago, pecorino, Colby jack, fontina), and some either sharp or hard (parmesan, smoked gouda, feta, Swiss, gorgonzola, Romano, or anything labeled “vintage”).
My favorites, for the general crowd: Soft Pecorino (this one’s hard to find in a soft block in the US, sadly), white cheddar, asiago and brie (the softest).
I love to load up on berries, and they can pair PERFECTLY with some of these cheeses. This means raspberries, grapes, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries (okay, all the berries), apple, orange slices and really anything else you want.
This definitely depends on the season – berries won’t be a good choice for the winter time. That doesn’t mean you have to exclude all fruit from your board, though – just find one that’s ripe and in season.
4. SPREADS, ETC.
HONEY. HONEY. HONEY. Can I say it enough?
I had never tried honey and cheese before visiting Italy, and oh my gosh it was eye-opening in the least dramatic way possible. Drizzling just a tiny amount of sweet honey on an aged cheese (or any, for that matter) can make your taste buds dance.
Is anyone else picturing the rat from Ratatouille doing his little food dance?
Another amazing discovery: cranberry sauce with cheese. It’s the same premise, as it gives a little sweetness to add to your cheeses and crackers. These two are often served at Italian restaurants and likely in other countries as well, I’m just not as familiar with other European cultures.
A loaf of bread. Crackers. Those hard, thin breadsticks. PRETZELS.
A nice way to clean your palette in between bites is to have some soft, toasted bread. It can also be tasty with some soft cheeses! My father likes to make little “cheese sandwiches” and then load it with salami. To each their own.
Another great pairing is crackers. My mother’s favorite is Triscuits, but I’m more of a buttery Ritz fan. I also love the little toasted bread slices for making bruschetta. You get double points from me if you mix up some tomatoes, basil, balsamic and spices, then teaspoon your mixture out onto crackers or bread slices… bruschetta is delicious.
6. Great Pairings:
- Brie cheese + raspberries OR cranberry sauce
- Cheddar cheese + apples OR strawberries
- Smoked Gouda + fig
- Mozzarella + cranberries OR strawberries
- Fontina + strawberries
- Red Grapes go with just about anything
Try them all without fear! A few tips, though:
- Don’t mix highly acidic foods with bitter flavors
- Acidic wines and fruits can make some cheeses (especially blue cheeses) taste “soapy”
- Dry cheeses with fresh, high-moisture fruits are just “eh”
- Some foods taste better before OR after another! For example: The grape may taste weird after you take a bite of cheese, but try a bite of it before… perfect!
Or as we English-speakers say, cheers! Italians like to say “cin cin” besides the classic “salute” because it mimics the sound of glasses clinking together when making a toast. Pronounced: [chin chin]
Enjoy your cheesy charcuterie board. Mix all the flavors you want. My only advice? Try something new – and make your friends try it too.
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