how to build an epic charcuterie board

They say we taste with our eyes first and nowhere is this more evident than with a beautifully arranged charcuterie board. A true feast for the senses, charcuterie boards somehow manage to make all our favourite foods taste BETTER, simply by looking pretty.

Whether it’s a massive board to feed a crowd, or a petite board for one, even the humblest ingredients can be elevated by combining them on a board. Keep reading to get our best tips for building beautiful boards that will impress your family and friends, and for keeping your ingredients fresh and tasty.

Planning your Board
In its purest form, a charcuterie board is an arrangement of cured or cooked meats and some bread. As they’ve gained popularity, the term “charcuterie board” has strayed away from its original meaning and now broadly refers to all sorts of tasty things arranged on a board, platter, or plate—meats, cheeses, preserves, veggies, fruit, and even sweets.

Charcuterie Board

With so many options, planning your charcuterie board can feel overwhelming, but there are a few things to keep in mind that can help make the process less daunting. First, think about your board in categories, then choose ingredients for each category that complement but contrast each other.

For example, let’s say you want your board to have three cheeses—choose an aged cheese for slicing, a soft or spreadable cheese, and a firm or crumbly cheese. The same principle works for meats—paper-thin prosciutto, spicy salami, and mild mortadella, for example. Or, if you really love salami, get three kinds of salami, but choose a good variety or range of spice-levels.

You’ll also want to add all of the extras that make charcuterie boards colourful and interesting. Again, group them into categories—pickled things, sweet things, crunchy things, dips and spreads, etc.—and aim for a range of colours, textures, tastes, and shapes to bring your board to life. Here are some of our go-tos for the "extras":

Pickled and savoury: cornichons or gherkins, a variety of olives, artichoke hearts, pepperoncini, pickled red onions
Sweet: grapes, sliced apple or pear, fresh berries, dried fruit (apricots, cranberries, cherries), dark chocolate
Dips and spreads: fruit preserves, honey, gourmet mustard, fig spread, hot pepper jelly, jarred antipasto
Crunch: roasted nuts (almonds, pecans, cashews), fresh veggies, crackers, breadsticks

And, remember, don’t overthink it. Charcuterie boards are a great opportunity to experiment with different combinations of flavours and a low-risk way to try new things. Who knows—you might find some new favourites!

Keeping your Ingredients Fresh
When you get home from your big charcuterie shopping trip, there are some things you can do to keep your ingredients in tip-top shape and make building your boards a little easier. Here are some dos and don’ts for refrigerator storage:

  • Do store meats and cheeses in a humidity controlled drawer, such as a deli drawer or crisper, at around 4°C, if possible. The Whirlpool Bottom-mount fridge, above, has a full-width, external pantry drawer that can be set at a different temperature than the fridge to create the perfect, stable environment for meats and cheeses. Because it is opened less frequently, it will keep a consistent temperature and humidity level to help keep your ingredients fresher.
  • Do store sealed, deli-style meats in their original packaging for up to seven days after the “sell by” date, at or below 4°C. Once opened, keep in an air-tight container and try to consume within the week. If you are purchasing from the deli-counter, keep sliced meats wrapped in butcher paper or in an air-tight container, for up to a week. Store dry-cured meats in the fridge for up to a month, wrapped in butcher paper or beeswax-coated fabric food wraps.
  • Don’t store cheese wrapped in plastic. If you purchase your cheese from a cheesemonger, it will probably come in specialty cheese paper, which regulates humidity and lets the cheese breathe. Experts advise rewrapping plastic-wrapped cheese before storing in cheese paper, beeswax wrap, parchment, or wax paper. Intact wheels of brie and camembert can be left in their packaging, as can brined cheeses.
  • Do refrigerate apples, berries, and grapes in their original packaging in the crisper. Pears can be left at room temperature to ripen, and then transferred to the fridge. Planning on adding cute cherry tomatoes to your board? Don’t refrigerate them!
  • Don’t refrigerate breads and crackers.

Building Your Board
The beauty of charcuterie boards is they can be scaled up or scaled down based on the number of people you are feeding, or even broken out into separate boards for individual servings. If you’re not sure, choose a board that is on the larger side—it’s easier to deal with too much space on the board than not enough.

The base of your charcuterie board can be a board specially made for the purpose, a wood or marble cutting board, or any plate or platter you have on hand. If you have spreads, dips, and pickled items, transfer them to small ramekins or bowls and have utensils on hand for scooping, spreading, and spearing. You will also need one cheese knife for each type of cheese on the board.

Charcuterie Build

Once you have your board chosen and your ingredients assembled, you can start building! (If you are not planning to serve your board right away, read the dos and don'ts in the "Storing your Board" section first!)

1. Start with the ingredients that are in bowls or ramekins. This will be your dips and spreads, but might also include marinated items, pickles, olives, etc. Spread your bowls around the board and don’t panic, it looks empty now, but it will fill in nicely.

2. Add the cheese. You may choose to slice, chunk, or cube your cheese, or keep the pieces whole. If you decide on whole wedges of cheese, make sure you and your guests have easy access to reach in and slice some off. Runny or creamy cheeses, like brie or chevre, are always left whole.

3. Add your meats. The type of meat you have determines how it can be placed on the board, but your goal is to make it look three dimensional. (ie Not just in a stack or flat on the board.) Get creative with your presentation! Make a salami “river”; roll capocollo; wrap proscuitto around a breadstick; serve hard chorizo whole or sliced and fanned—the idea is to create texture, but still make it easy for people to take it from the board.

TIP: To make a salami river, fold thin slices of salami in quarters. Then, stack all of the quarters, keeping the points together. Once you have several folded slices, place the stack on your board, rounded (open) sides up. Keep adding slices until your river is long enough, then gently curve it into an S shape. It’s a good idea to have something solid, like a wedge of cheese or a bowl of olives, at each end to keep the river from unfolding.

4. Fill the gaps. Once all the cheese and meat is in place, fill in all of the spaces left on your board with your extras—small handfuls of nuts, clusters of grapes, stacks of crackers placed on edge, etc. As you fill in the spaces, you might need to rearrange things a little or squeeze them in a tighter. The look you want is “abundance,” so don’t be afraid to create little piles. And, if your board is quite large, think of it as two halves and mirror your ingredients on each half.

5. Garnish. At this point, your board should be looking pretty good, but a couple sprigs of rosemary or some edible flowers could take it right over the top.

Storing your Board
Putting together an elaborate board can be a time-consuming task, so you may want to prepare it earlier in the day or up to 24 hours in advance. To keep everything in perfect condition, follow these dos and don’ts:

  • Don’t add crackers and crunchy elements until you’re ready to serve. Leave space on your board for them, or serve in a separate basket or bowl(s). The same goes for wet ingredients like pickles and olives.
  • Do place your dip bowls on the board, but don’t fill them until just before serving. Some ingredients, like mustards, can form a skin or become discoloured; honey will harden, making it hard to drizzle.
  • Do wrap your tray tightly in cling film to prevent it from drying out or picking up food odors from the fridge.
  • Do store your board in a high humidity section of the fridge, if possible. The Maytag French Door fridge above has a separate, full-width, humidity controlled deli drawer that is perfect for storing charcuterie board ingredients and completed boards. Smaller or personal-sized boards can also be stored in a humidity-controlled crisper drawer.
  • Do take your board out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving. Cheeses always taste best closer to room temperature.

Everybody gets a board!
It wasn’t that long ago we would dive right into a communal cheese platter or veggie tray at an event. But, now that we are all feeling a little more cautious about touching things, personal charcuterie boards are becoming more of a thing—especially when we’re social distancing.

The good news is, if you can make a big board, you can make a small board. The only difference is, instead of one serving surface, you’ll need several. You can use side plates or, for an authentic touch, check the dollar store for small bamboo cutting boards. (Don’t worry about using your mini boards again—once you get on the charcuterie board bandwagon, you’ll be making them at every opportunity.)

As you are prepping your ingredients, keep in mind that these boards will likely be hand-held or held in the lap, so make sure everything can be popped right into the mouth. Cut cheeses into one or two bite slices or cubes, roll or fold slices meats, wrap slices of prosciutto around small chunks of melon, and snip small clusters from a larger bunch of grapes, for example.

Whether you are making two or 200, it’s best to build your personal boards all at once, assembly line style. Lay out all of your boards and fill them, one component at a time, and try to build all of the boards as close to identical as possible. If one looks great, they’ll all look great!

Serve your personal boards immediately, or wrap tightly and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. The Frigidaire Gallery fridge above has a full width drawer that can accommodate several small boards, without having to stack them.


Are you planning an epic charcuterie board? We’d love to see the results! Tag us on Instagram and share your #DufresneStyle