I’m so excited to share this Halloween themed snack board with you all, because really, is there anything better than a beautiful and hearty charcuterie board for a low-key night at home or a fun and festive party? Charcuterie boards are basically just adult snack food, but when done right, it can have all the key food groups so that you can eat cheese and crackers and salami, and not feel all that bad about it, because you’ve really just had a well-rounded meal 😉 Read on to learn how I threw together this spread.
What is charcuterie?
The actual definition of charcuterie is “cold cooked meats collectively.” So, just like you can’t call champagne champagne unless the grapes used are from the Champagne region, you can’t call a charcuterie plate that, unless it actually contains prepared meats like salami, prosciutto and/or pate.
A charcuterie plate/board typically has an assemblage of meats, cheeses, nuts and crackers, and more elaborate boards may also contain pickles, olives and sweets.
It serves as a great appetizer if done in sparing measure, but when really loaded up, it can work as a whole meal. I love to make full boards like this for either parties where there’s going to be a crowd and you don’t plan to serve an entire meal, or for a casual and easy dinner at home. With anything, you can of course go overboard and putting together a big board can be pricey, so you want to learn to stock up and store key ingredients when you come across them on sale or at discount stores (more on that later), so that all you really need to do when you want to throw one together, is buy a couple of meats and cheeses.
Step by Step Guide to Assembling a Gorgeous Charcuterie Board
Start by deciding on the serving platter you’re going to use, and gather a couple of cheese knives if you’ve them, and small serving utensils like spoons and forks to help guests gather meats, nuts and olives. Small plates and cocktail napkins are a good idea as well.
Choosing your cheeses
Starting with a decent size round or rectangle board, I like to first place my cheeses. When selecting cheese for a charcuterie board, I like to have a mix of hard, soft and maybe a crumbly cheese. Below I have a merlot skin asiago which is a hard and nutty cheese that tastes great all on its own. I usually pick up a small piece of Humboldt fog (it can be pricey), which is a goat cheese with a characteristic pungent blue streak and a creamy but slightly bold flavor. It’s made in Cypress Grove, California, so I don’t know how readily available it is all over the country, but if you come across it I suggest you pick it up. Such a yummy cheese!
I feel like Brie is always a must just because it’s of course delicious, but it is also very familiar and safe for those who may be afraid to try more unusual cheeses, especially a stinky gorgonzola. And then a nice Irish cheddar is always a great addition, but this time I went with the pungent gorgonzola just because I thought it’s black speckled appearance worked well with the spooky vibe.
Choosing your meats
Any type of salami is always a good idea, as is a thin sliced prosciutto, which can be pricey so to save a tiny bit, I usually buy it from the deli counter instead of pre-packaged. It’s a splurge item, so even for a big party board I typically won’t put more than 1/4 lb of prosciutto out, and let the guests fight over the paper thin slivers like wolves. 😉 A peppery thick cut hard salami is also fun because it offers up a heartier texture than the other thin sliced meats.
When placing them on the board, I start by putting out several slices of each, but then add in more at the end to fill in holes, so make sure you only put out about 2/3 of each type of meat, and set aside the remaining pieces to fill in gaps as needed.
Fill in items – nuts, olives and fruit
Next, it’s time to put in some filler items like briny olives or cornichons to help offset the meats and cheeses, and mild fruits to help balance out all the saltiness. Fiber filled fruits like berries, apples and figs will also serve to aid with digestion, as noshing on cured meats, cheeses and crackers all night will do a number on the tummy if you’ve got a sensitive stomach like me hehe 🙂
Placing the crackers is one of the last ingredients I place because I want them to stay as crisp and fresh as possible, and if your tray is really jam packed, chances are if put out too soon, they may get soggy from touching other ingredients for too long.
Adding the finishing touches
If you’ve got space, I definitely recommend adding in a veggie or two to offer your guests something to cleanse the palate every so often. Something simple like blanched haricot verts, asparagus or raw carrots are all nice options because of their clean and fresh flavor.
Once your ingredients are pretty well in place, see if you can fill in little holes with the rest of your meats. This is really only necessary if you want a really full looking board that looks like it’s exploding with food. Otherwise, leave it at that and start adding in some spooky garnishes.
Plastic spiders, skeleton hands to set on top of ingredients, muslin or other apropos Halloween-esque fabrics also work well to layer texture and add to the spooky vibe. No need to go over the top, but definitely have fun with it.
Tips for assembling a charcuterie platter with ease and without spending a fortune
*Keep your pantry stocked with non-perishables that make for fun ingredients when you find them on sale. Fancy crackers, nuts, jarred olives and little sweet treats can be picked up and stored for your next occasion.
*Home Goods is a great place to stock up on unique snack items, especially jars of beautiful olives, chocolates and crackers, and are priced really well. Occasionally you may even find honeycomb!
*Trader Joe’s has fantastic prices on cheese and seasonal non-perishable snack items.
*Buy cured meats from the deli counter, as the prices are usually cheaper by the pound, and you can more easily stick to a specific budget by only buying what you need.
*Buy seasonally appropriate fruits, as in-season fruit will usually be a lot cheaper.
*In my book, it’s quality over quantity when it comes to serving nuts. I stick with Marcona almonds and just serve those instead of trying to offer a few different varieties, as it cuts down on costs (nuts are expensive), and pretty much no one can resist them. IMHO, they are the greatest nut of all time so why mess with any others? 😉
I hope you found some fun inspiration in this post, and will go out and assemble your next charcuterie board like a boss. Gathering ingredients is the fun part, so enjoy the process and don’t get stressed out trying to choose the perfect cheese or waste money buying the fanciest cured meats. Your guests will love and appreciate the effort no matter what the costs involved or how exotic the ingredients.
And to make a platter shine, let your creative spirit take over and go for a natural and organic “thrown together” look versus one that looks like everything was perfectly placed. Have fun with it and enjoy your guests!