How to Build a Holiday Charcuterie Plate
Master the basics of charcuterie, the art of preserving meats
Learn how to build a charcuterie plate for the holidays.
The great thing about food trends is that they often celebrate foods rich in culinary tradition — and charcuterie is no exception. Charcuterie, the art of preserving meats (whether through salting, curing, or cooking), is an ancient food preparation technique that was necessary due to lack of dependable refrigeration up until the early 1900s.
Thanks to Old World traditions crossing the seas, we’re seeing a surge of U.S. artisan cured meats — from piquant, tangy salamis to rich, nutty pâtés, and from peppery, olive-flecked mortadella to tender, paper-thin bresaola.
Terroir, the wonderful "taste of place" often affiliated with wine and cheese, also appears in charcuterie. Unique grasses and vegetation eaten by the animals, certain minerals found in local water, and most importantly, distinct yeasts and molds floating through the air, all play a part in creating particularly delicious and complex flavors in aged meats. The dusty white coat on fermented salami contains millions of mold and yeast cells accumulated as the meat has aged, creating a dramatic effect on flavor. Local yeasts found on salami aged in Berkeley, Calif., for example, impart rustic, "barnyard" flavors, while regional yeasts found in Italy’s Piedmont region yield sweeter, mushroom notes.
Once you’ve tasted different charcuterie and mastered the basics, it’s time to up the ante and build a charcuterie plate. Here’s how:
- Include one of each type of charcuterie, from mild to savory and spicy, by including cooked, boiled meat; salted, hung, air-dried meat; hung and fermented meat with casing.
- Pair salami with shaved or chunked Parmigiano-Reggiano or a softer cheese like Cowgirl Creamery’s Organic Mt. Tam triple-crème Brie.
- With pâtés, the bread or cracker is key. You may want to include a few different options.
- Make sure to add olives, almonds, and a spicy fruit spread like a mostarda to charcuterie plates to continue to entice the palate.
Need some more guidance? Be sure to ask your grocer or a Certified Cheese Professional for their picks and to try a taste of different options.
— Cathy Strange, global cheese buyer for Whole Foods Market
How to Build a Holiday Charcuterie BoardPhoto: Meredith Leigh
The James Beard Foundation is guided by our mantra of &ldquogood food for good TM ,&rdquo which encompasses all aspects of the food system, from safe workplaces, to culinary innovation, to the environmental impact of the methods used to grow and catch our food. Below, farmer, butcher, and writer Meredith Leigh walks us through building a holiday charcuterie board that's delicious, arresting, and centered around ethical meat.
Holiday snacking is almost more fun than the feast, and a show-stopping charcuterie board can be the perfect centerpiece. Holiday butcher board offerings have become a unique tradition in my house, and a way to celebrate culture, sustainability, and community at the most joyful time of year. Here are some tips for assembling a beautiful and tasteful board, with a little help from some friends.
Start with the meat.
A well-built charcuterie board is varied and bountiful, which bodes well for different taste buds. The board pictured above has a beef bresaola, made from the eye of round, a lamb merguez salami, and a cured ham in the style of prosciutto. On another plate you&rsquoll see a country pâté, made mostly from pork, but also including rabbit offal and chicken liver. This combo of at least three meats: a dried sausage, a whole muscle preparation, and the pâté incorporating offal, all from different species, give the perfect variation of flavor and texture. The bresaola and the pâté also make use of parts of the carcass that aren&rsquot as favorable for fresh eating. Charcuterie, however, brings these bits to their highest expression, and allows for mindful use of the whole carcass. In the case of the merguez salami, guests might be introduced to something they&rsquove never encountered before: cured lamb.
Nick Ponte, head butcher at Marrow in Detroit, builds his charcuterie program off of this same premise. &ldquoEverything at Marrow starts from the whole animal, and charcuterie is an important part of how we make that possible.&rdquo He recommends combining beef, pork, and something spreadable &ldquolike a pâté or a mousse&rdquo to give broad representation of the full flavors of fat and quality meat. Jeffrey Weiss, author of Charcuteria and co-chef at Valencian Gold in Las Vegas, agrees, and for a Spanish-inspired board recommends a jamón from La Tienda, paired with a sobrasada spicy spreadable salami.
Animals raised outdoors and allowed to express their natural tendencies will produce meat and fat that reflect the terroir of their lives, much like a fine wine. This is where sourcing and fine craftsmanship come into play to make charcuterie unique and delicious. Bill Miner, founder and owner of Il Porcellino Salami in Denver, says that the animal&rsquos fat is the biggest contributor to flavor in the finished product. &ldquoGood sourcing proves itself in the end,&rdquo he adds. I recommend Il Porcellino&rsquos holiday salami box (be sure to get at least one of the spiced juniper!).
Play colors off of each other, and vary textures and shapes on the board, almost as if you&rsquore painting a landscape.
I favor a bountiful spread, without a lot of space between items. Experiment with piles versus stacks, neatly lined or fanned cheeses, and geometrically sliced pâté. The color of cured meats lends nicely to warm hues, which are perfect for a holiday spread. Be sure to slice as thin as you can manage, especially for rich cheeses and salt-cured meats. Cooked pâtés may be served in chunkier portions, but on the whole, charcuterie is meant to be eaten in small portions. This allows it to melt in the mouth and prevents its complex flavors from overpowering your palate. Small servings also play a role in retraining our palates and our expectations around portion sizes, which is a crucial tenet of sustainable meat.
Photo: Meredith Leigh
Acid cuts through.
Acidic and pungent components like pickles and mustards are classic, and necessary to cut through the rich flavors of charcuterie. On this board, fennel pickles with chile and orange zest complement the pâté&rsquos hazelnut, and orange. If you don&rsquot want to brine your own pickles, Mouth.com has fun options. My favorite mustard this season is from Mustard & Co.
Make sure to add some crunch.
Here, candied pecans with a touch of cayenne balance the spice of merguez salami. Last but not least, cheeses both hard and soft round out the offerings. Visit your local cheesemonger for recommendations on what will pair with your dominant flavors. The center cheese on this board is Ridgeline from my neighbors at Looking Glass Creamery. Both beautiful and mildly funky, its clean and milky taste pairs well with the bold flavors of salumi. The other cheese you see is a simple and fresh-tasting fromage blanc, with a mild sourness to compliment the boldness of the meats and pickles.
Finally, embellish and personalize.
Because this was a holiday board, I made a fermented chutney with cranberry and fig, and loads of warm holiday flavors like cardamom, clove, cinnamon, and ginger. I put cinnamon sticks and a tossed a few whole spices here and there, along with thinly sliced, juicy oranges&mdashall hints to flavors found within the main offerings. And, because my family celebrates Christmas and Hanukkah, I made potato latkes with my bone marrow horseradish sauce.
Let the board reflect the land through diversity and good sourcing, and let it also reflect you: your family, your favorite flavors, and your personality. If you succeed, your charcuterie boards are sure to become a lasting tradition at the holidays.
Meredith Leigh is a farmer, butcher, chef, and author of The Ethical Meat Handbook (2015) and Pure Charcuterie (2017). She writes and travels extensively with a focus on sustainable agriculture and resilient food systems. She lives in Asheville, NC.
What Are the Elements of a Charcuterie Board?
First, choose a board, tray, or platter to be your foundation. Wood and marble are popular charcuterie board material choices because they are sturdy and beautiful. The shape is simply a matter of preference, though you should take the elements of your board into account when making your selections. For example,ਊ rectangular board may better accommodate long, leafy vegetable stems or cheese wedges than a square-shape one. We designed this rectangular 20x12-inchoard to feed about 10 people. Bear in mind: The larger the board, the more money you&aposll spend to fill it up. If you want to keep your budget in check, fill large boards out with more produce or opt for a smaller one.
Dishesreate structure on the board. Use little bowls and cups to anchor the arrangement and help contain loose items like dips, nuts, and olives. Raid your kitchen cabinets for salt cellars, small candy dishes, and ramekins. What you have on hand is perfect—they don&apost need to match!
If your budget and location allow it, go to a local cheese shop for unique, high-qualityheeses. As a rule of thumb, include three to five cheeses in these basic categories: a hard cheese, a soft cheese, and a blue cheese. Contrasting flavors and textures diversify the board and give guests a broader range of options to sample. If you aren&apost sure what to buy, ask the store for pairing recommendations.
Include a few varieties of thinly sliced cured meats. Lay them flat or arrange them in loose rolls so they&aposre easy for guests to pick up and nibble on. You can also include harder meats that guests can cut themselves, like smoked sausages and salamis, and a spreadable meat like pâté (chicken or duck liver). Some popular charcuterie meats include guanciale, pancetta, hard salami, prosciutto, and mortadella.
Crackers, breadsticks, breads. You&aposll want to include a few starchy sidekicks,specially if your board includes soft, spreadable cheeses and jams. There&aposs no hard-and-fast rule here, though we recommend offering two types of crackers or breads with different flavor profiles. If someone on your guest list has gluten sensitivity, consider subbing in a nut-based cracker option.
Fruits and veggies add color and freshness to a charcuterie or meat and cheeseoard. They&aposre also a tasty contrast to rich, salty meats and cheeses. When planning which items to include, consider foods that can be eaten whole or cut into slices. Buy in-season produce for the best flavors (and to trim down your grocery bill).
What should go inside DIY Charcuterie Boxes?
A great charcuterie board includes a diverse variety of flavors from sweet to salty to savory to spicy. Many cheese boards include meats, crackers, fruits, nuts, and more surprises people love!
Save time and stress by ordering online at Tom Thumb
Who doesn’t love to save time on shopping? During the holidays our time is especially limited so I like to recommend Tom Thumb’s Grocery Delivery and DriveUp & Go™. I ordered online and they delivered to my doorstep the following day. It’s incredibly convenient. This leaves me more time to focus on the fun part – making portable cheese boards people love!
Shopping at Tom Thumb makes it easy to find everything you need to make these grazing boxes.
Best Crackers for a Cheeseboard
First, Open Nature and O Organics have the products you need to create the wholesomely good recipes AND memories that your family wants! The Open Nature line includes products that are plant-based, gluten-free, high protein, biodegradable, and compostable items.
Crackers and bread are essential! Tom Thumb offers the best artisan crackers including:
- Open Nature® Entertaining Cracker Classic Assortment (wheat and classic crackers are included)
- Open Nature® Water Cracker
- O Organic® Flatbread
- O Organics® Stone Ground Wheat Crackers
What cheeses are normally on a charcuterie plate?
This box would not be complete without an assortment of tasty cheeses. Include soft, semi-soft and hard cheeses such as:
- Mild or Sharp Cheddar
- Colby Jack cheese
- Brie cheese (cut into smaller triangles and wrap in Signature SELECT™ Plastic Wraps)
- Blue Cheese
- Goat Cheese
What meats are included in a charcuterie box?
There are so many curated meats you can include in your board:
- Dried cured salami
- Cracked pepper dry salami
- Turkey and Ham (kids love this option!)
Tip: The secret to making them look pretty in a box is to roll the meat up and group together by using a toothpick to hold them secure. Keep refrigerated up until assembly and directly after to ensure freshness.
What else can be included in a mini charcuterie box?
If you have enough room in the box definitely fill up mini honey jars with this delicious Signature SELECT Clover Honey from Tom Thumb.
Tip: This honey pairs wonderfully with the brie cheese!
Since this is a portable charcuterie board I would shy away from certain fruits that may make your crackers soggy upon delivery. I always eat my cheese boards right away, but there may be some that want to save it for later. For these boxes, I went with fresh grapes.
- Berries such as raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, and blackberries.
- Dried fruit such as apricots, prunes, and raisins.
Tip: Always put fruit next to or on top of the brie cheese and places that need some added color!
I ran out of room in my boxes, but jam is always a popular option to include:
I always include nuts in my boards. Fill in the empty spaces of the boards with nuts. Tom Thumb offers a wide selection of nuts that I featured in my boxes:
- Signature SELECT Deluxe Mixed Nuts
- Signature SELECT Whole Cashews
- Signature SELECT Macadamia Nut
- Signature SELECT Almonds
A great charcuterie board offers a mix of sweet and salty. For these boxes, I included some of the best cookies Tom Thumb has to offer:
- Signature SELECT Seasons Holiday Shortbread Cookies
- Signature SELECT Biscuits Chocolate
How to decorate a charcuterie box
Add some flair to your board with fresh herbs or floral arrangements:
- Edible flowers
- Fresh flowers such as sunflowers, roses, and chamomile.
How to assemble a Charcuterie box
It’s time for the fun part- putting everything together! I made eight (6) boxes with these supplies. Each box can feed up to two people.
- First, I assembled these gift boxes and placed festive tissue paper inside.
- Second, place crackers in different spots with the stacked meats nearby.
- Place brie cheese in a corner next to fruit.
- Scatter cheese throughout and in between crackers.
- Place fruit away from crackers so it doesn’t turn them soggy.
- Stack the dessert cookies in a corner.
- Fill in empty spaces with mixed nuts.
- Place the honey pot with the wand in the center for a dramatic effect.
- Insert rosemary leaves in corners or spots that need some color.
- Finally, close the box and seal with a sticker.
- Optional: Tie with ribbon or twine and attach a festive fork.
- Optional: Use a label or sticker with a custom greeting.
Remember, there are no set rules in making charcuterie boards. The fun lies in the creation phase. No board looks the same and that is what makes it so enjoyable to make. I promise your friends and family will love receiving this delicious assortment of tasty treats. Also, it’s okay if you save one for yourself – you deserve it after the year we have had.
Looking for more holiday recipes?
I get my O Organics and Open Nature products in my area exclusively at Albertsons and Tom Thumb, but you can find them in any of the Albertsons Companies family of store near you, including Safeway, ACME, Randalls, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s, Star Market, Vons, Pavilions, United Supermarkets and Carrs/Safeway.
Visit Albertsons.com/exclusivebrands or tomthumb.com/exclusivebrands to find a store near you and discover meal prep tips and recipe ideas.
Discover delicious recipes inspired by Tom Thumb
Don’t forget to share on Pinterest!
If you love this recipe, you will love all the ones I am pinning right now. Follow me on Pinterest for more delicious recipes.
By Michelle Hancock | November 22, 2020
Where can you get the boxes?
I got these boxes on Amazon here: https://amzn.to/3deMsho
Where did you get the brie cheese?
You can find brie cheese in the deli and cheese area of Tom Thumb.
Can you make these a day ahead?
You can but the crackers will be not as fresh and a little bit harder.
or you could leave the crackers out and put them inside the box the day of.
I plan on making 30 of these for my daughters graduation. We are putting the fruit in it’s own cup, so we don’t have to worry about it getting things soggy. The boxes will be placed in the fridge overnight.
Do you have any tips on ways to keep the crackers & bread fresh?
Leave a Reply Cancel reply
Hi, I’m Michelle. My mission is to help moms believe in themselves through realistic parenting hacks that make life with kids easier and more fun!
What is typically on a charcuterie plate?
You can customize your charcuterie board however you like, however typically it will include the following:
- Cured meats
- Various cheeses &ndash Nice cheeses and meats are generally on the pricier side. With that said, it feeds A LOT of people.
- Olives and Nuts
- Dried Fruits
- Crackers or small slices of bread
- Jelly or Jam
Do I make a fancy board on a regular basis? No. For special occasions and holidays, you bet. Go in with a few family members to cut costs, that can help. Shop in your pantry before you go shopping at the grocery store. Chances are, you&rsquoll have a handful of items you can use for your board right in your own pantry.
Best Trader Joe's Crackers for Charcuterie Boards
I like including a few different cracker varieties for charcuterie boards. Having a variety is not only visually pleasing, but they can make different meat and cheese pairings more fun.
My favorite Trade Joe's crackers for charcuterie boards are Social Snackers, Breadsticks, Gig and Olive Crisps, and Cornbread Crisps. You can also add thinly sliced baguettes, Trader Joe's Pita Crackers, or pick up their variety packs.
Passover Inspired Charcuterie Board
A love a good themed charcuterie board, so I thought I’d put together a Passover inspired appetizer plate to serve before a Seder meal. It’s also perfect for those in between meals, when a little nosh is needed.
While a charcuterie board might not be a traditional passover meal, a kosher charcuterie board is a fun modern take on this important Spring holiday. Scroll down for a complete list for what’s on the board.
How to Build a Passover Inspired Charcuterie Board
The most important component of this plate is the matzo. The matzo takes the place of bread and crackers. But wait, we are also serving it two ways.
See those chocolate crackers? That’s actually matzo chocolate bark —also rightfully referred to as matzo crack. I made the chocolate bark for the first time following this recipe and I have to say it lives up to the hype. You can also buy matzo bark or use chocolate bars instead for a little sweetness.
Next, I wanted to add smoked salmon and potato latkes. Not only because I would count those two things as my top 10 favorite, but because they both symbolize the holiday to me. I added sour cream in a separate ramiken for those who like to add. You could also use cream cheese, and add capers and olives or apple sauce.
Listen, this is your charcuterie board, I’m just sharing this for inspiration.
Why Add Deviled Eggs to the Charcuterie Board?
First, the answer is easy. Deviled eggs are delicious. But also very easy to make and in general hard boiled eggs are a great protein if we were making a lunch time charcuterie board or a breakfast board.
You can make deviled eggs one day ahead and they will keep covered in your refrigerated up to three days. I used this recipe to make these. If you don’t like deviled eggs you can skip them or just serve up hard boiled eggs.
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Tips for How to Create a Charcuterie Board
In life I say less is more. When it comes to charcuterie boards it’s the opposite. More is more. Meaning a board looks the most beautiful when you filled in all of the open spaces and the cravises.
I love to do that with fresh fruit and herbs. Sprinkling fresh berries and maybe a bit too much dill creates an opulence on the board and it’s visually pleasing.
Another helpful tip is make shortcuts whenever possible. I used kosher pre-made latke batter and it made putting together this charcuterie board a breeze.
If you plan to assemble a Passover board and want to keep it kosher, make sure to pick up kosher versions of all of the ingredients, like mayonnaise before assembling your spread.
Also, if you are serving a kosher board, every step of the process from purchasing to preparing the food must be kept kosher.
15 Dazzling Holiday Charcuterie Boards You Can Make at Home
The holidays, and all the tasty food that goes along with them, have arrived. And while family gatherings may look different this year, that doesn’t mean you can’t whip up an epic holiday charcuterie board. From waffle and bagel boards to Christmas cocoa, these holiday charcuterie board ideas are great for gatherings of any size. Scroll down to see them all.
This Charcuterie Board Feeds 20 People — and Yes, You Can Make It
And with food being the star of the show, you can dress your table to impress. Especially in the appetizer department… I’m, of course, talking about my personal favorite: an impressive charcuterie board. The lavish spread may look intimidating, but it’s really quite simple to put together.
I was born and raised in the upper Midwest so I know my way around the cheese section of the grocery store. For an elevated charcuterie board, I like to choose at least one from each of the following categories:
- Firm: such as the classic Parmigiano Reggiano or Syrah-soaked Toscano
- Soft/creamy: like herbed goat cheese, or triple-cream French brie
- Aged or smoked: like gouda or Trader Joe’s Unexpected Cheddar.
- Funky: such as bleu cheese.
You’ll want to estimate about 3 ounces per person. So if you have two people, that’s 6 ounces — or work backward. For example, if you want six cheeses for two people, you’d only be getting an ounce each. Of course play around with your favorite combinations, and feel free to pile on more of your favorite.
Ounces to the gram are almost always marked on cheese labels. If you shop at a deli or specialty store, simply chat with your cheesemonger and request the proper proportions in ounces.
The meat section is another important component of any impressive charcuterie spread. I like to play around with texture and color here, so I generally choose one of each:
- dry Italian meat
- flavorful ham
- spicy sausage
- smooth spread, like pâté
My go-to for meat, no matter how big the board, is Gusto’s Black Peppercorn Soppressata, an Italian dry salami. I love the black pepper, which adds a bit of elevated spice.
Another winner, if you don’t want spice, is Creminelli Prosciutto, an Italian dry cured ham. Other personal favorites are dried Spanish chorizo, which has tons of warm spiciness, and a smooth and flavorful chicken liver pâté.
Sauces are an all important selection because nothing is worse than a dry charcuterie board. For a balance of flavors and textures, I prefer some tried-and-true items. These include:
- Trader Joe’s pepper jelly for a sweet and salty flavor bomb
- a fig and citrus spread for a fruity, acidic kick (heaven when paired with goat cheese and pistachios)
- some homemade pesto, which has extra holiday vibes due to its vibrant color and is so delicious with prosciutto and Parmesan
- stone-ground mustard, a classic board staple
- salted almonds, Cornish pickles (aka the cute little ones), pistachios (unshelled), and/or mixed nuts for another crunchy element
And when it’s available or in season, I will also include a local fruit jelly and honey from the farmers market. Additionally, you can consider adding heritage elements. My husband is Irish, so I could pick an aged Irish cheddar when I want to honor his ancestry.
When in Wisconsin, don’t be afraid to pile on some squeaky fresh cheese curds. If you’re in the south, add some pimento cheese balls. These touches can embrace regional cuisine and make your board stand out from the rest.
In my opinion, a good charcuterie board is like calculated chaos. It should look crowded and like it’s overflowing with goodness. Plus it’s how you get the most photogenic result!
- large marble or wooden tray (using multiple smaller trays also works)
- 60 ounces of cheese (to start, 50:50 ratio of hard and soft)
- 60 ounces of meat
- spicy jellies and sweet jams
- salted almonds, Cornish pickles, pistachios
- red and green colored toothpicks, festive cheese spreaders, and knives for serving (optional)
1. The best presentation comes from placing each cheese around the board but not right next to each other. Cut thin, uniform slices of your hard cheeses (about halfway through a large block) and keep a knife on the board so guests can cut their own slices.
Place your soft cheeses, like a goat cheese log, in the middle with a spreader stuck right in. For other spreadable cheeses, like Brie, simply make sure to include a spreader for each type.
2. Next up, layer your meat choices. They can go either in one long line, from one end of the board to the other, or you could lay them in pretty circles.
3. Now pile on your spreads. You can do this by putting them in ramekins or directly on top of your charcuterie board. I like to add dollops wherever there’s empty space.
4. Add your nuts, pickles, and other inspirations. I like to sprinkle small piles of pomegranate seeds to brighten up a board. Sometimes I’ll add sprigs of rosemary, which is not only fragrant but sort of resembles a Christmas tree (on theme here!). If I can, I’ll also include a honeycomb for sweetness and a visual punch, or dried edible flowers for a gourmet touch.
Finally, for all the indulgent eating, I’ll include some sparkly, metallic or holiday-themed napkins, cheese knives and spreaders, and small plates.
Your board should allow for roughly 3 ounces of meat and cheese per person, an optimal serving size amount if it’s served as an appetizer. Double the serving size to 6 ounces per person if the board is meant to be a main course.
Katy is a freelance food, business, and travel writer. She has contributed to Chilled Magazine, The Reader, Matador Network, Crunchbase News, Business Insider, Popular Science, and many more publications. Follow her on Instagram and LinkedIn.
There are two quick steps anyone who wants to assemble a charcuterie spread should take before diving in. First, decide where you’re going shopping—a butcher shop, speciality store or standard supermarket. Then, figure out what you’re looking for.
If you’re an “on a mission” customer (like yours truly), you probably already know exactly what you want, Matt Levere, a butcher who won second place at the 2018 Charcuterie Masters competition in New York, tells StyleCaster. But if you’re more of a charcuterie beginner—or a not-so-novice looking to try something new—you might not have a grocery list to work from. Instead, you’ll have to suss out what exactly you’re in the mood for.
Start by asking yourself some questions, Levere suggests. Are you looking for an appetizer or meal? Do you like beef, pork, poultry or lamb? Do you want something sweet or savory? Mild or spicy? Look for something that fits your tastes—or ask a store employee for guidance. Opt for a few different kinds of meat Aurélien Dufour, chef and owner of Dufour Gourmet, tells StyleCaster he aims for five every time he makes a charcuterie plate.