Whenever I am planning a dinner party or gathering of any type, I think it’s important to have snacks or appetizers ready before the first guest rings the doorbell. Sometimes it’s just a bowl of pistachios with an empty vessel for visitors to discard their shells. Having some type of food available upon arrival is even more important to me than the main dish or a cocktail pairing.
People often adjust their eating plan for the day, based on the invitation or time of an event. More often than not, they are arriving at the door past the point of hunger. Guests normally will have skipped a meal or extended the time between meals, expecting you might be presenting a buffet of options.
When the occasion calls for it, I like to have a choose-your-own-adventure approach to my appetizer selection. That’s where the mighty charcuterie board comes into play. It’s a fun appetizer to put together and, as a pescatarian, it’s a great way to please my meat-eating guests. Let’s face it, the occasion is rare they will be served meat otherwise.
So, how do you go about putting together the perfect charcuterie board? It’s quite simple, and can even be more affordable than other options. Here are my tips for what you’ll need:
- Start with an attractive board or serving platter. The round platter pictured here was only $12 at Anko. While it is showing currently out of stock, there are many options at a similar price point. Also grab a couple of small dishes or other boards from your existing collection to use for olives or as a spillover board (see the picture).
- Choose a variety of cheese types. I like to start at Trader Joe’s, which has a wide variety of cheeses at a lower price point than many other retailers. I started with a chunk of Beecher’s Flagship and a Trader Joe’s-branded blue cheese. I added in Smoked Gouda to provide a different texture.
- Buy a multi-pack of sliced meats. Because I don’t eat meat, I don’t like to have a bunch of salami or meat left after the event. Especially during the holidays, variety packs for this very purpose are widely available. If you live near a specialty meat shop, you might even be able to ask the purveyors to select a dozen or so slices of a few of their recommendations.
- Grab crackers and accompaniments. If you have access to a bulk section, get olives, dried fruits or nuts in smaller quantities. Grab two or three types of crackers of “crunchy” dippers. Again, Trader Joe’s has a great selection and even carries a multi-pack of crackers that does the work for you.
- Add a few special touches. On the main board pictured here, I wanted to highlight some delicious local-to-Seattle favorites of mine. Adding things you love that others may not have seen is a great way to start the conversation. I added a jar of Italian Plum Cutting Preserves from Girl Meets Dirt and a Triple Toffee Truffle Bar from Seattle Chocolates.
Once you have gathered all of your ingredients, which may also include grapes or other sliced, fresh fruit, you can start building the board. I like to cut at least one of the cheeses completely into bite-size chunks and start every other cheese chunk by cutting off a few servings. This removes the pressure and intimidation from guests who don’t want to be the guy who actually did cut the cheese and ruin your presentation.
By not cutting all of the cheeses into bite-size pieces, your board will last longer. If everything is cut into bite-size pieces, the entire thing will walk away in minutes. Remember: Your guests are likely arriving hungry.
So, how do you know how much to serve? Great question. I try to have enough elements for guests to fill a small appetizer plate with 8 to 12 pieces from the charcuterie board. They might go back for a second round, but they’ll definitely nibble more slowly once things start disappearing.
Plus, if you’re serving this as an appetizer, you want to make sure guests are ready to enjoy the main courses of the evening. However, if you’re serving a board as the main source of food for a party or event, I suggest you double the ingredient list, hold half of it back and refill once or twice throughout the evening.