A New Way to Picnic: The Charcuterie Board

Whether you are lounging by the poolside in your backyard, floating on the lake with friends and family, or hiking on paths overwhelmed by springtime’s floral bounty, you’re bound to get hungry eventually. Do you have a plan to make sure that you are not only sustained but satisfied? Odds are you’ve probably planned a picnic. However, not just any picnic will do. This spring, forgo the soggy sandwiches and granola bars. Instead, opt for an array of deconstructed ingredients that you can pair to suit your pleasure: try a charcuterie board.

Charcuterie, according to the French Larousse, is a pork butcher. So how did it come to encompass the most elite form of picnicking? That is a question for etymologists. However, today, a charcuterie board goes well beyond pork products. In fact, boards are typically built to incorporate a variety of textures and flavors to amuse your mouth as much as your eyes. You can have a cheese plate of sweet, salty, crunchy, crispy, and creamy all beautifully displayed on a wooden plank. In fact, as long as it’s balanced and the quality of the meat is good, the more variation you can include, the happier your taste buds will be.

Chanchitos de Toquihua. #charcuterie #photooftheday

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And the best part about charcuterie? You don’t have to put anything together in advance. Each person does that for themselves, making your role as host the easiest it has ever been.

What ingredients make an elegant charcuterie board? Here are six suggestions for your cheese board needs.

Hard Cheese

A good place to begin is by selecting a firm, great cheese. Pick hard cheeses that will please the masses with a delicious flavor profile.

Whether that be a nutty sheep’s milk manchego from Spain or a stinky French comté, different types of firm cheese should be both easy to share and pair.

Soft Cheese

I'm in 💛 w. 🧀🧀🧀 #26weekspreggo #morningcheese #brie

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Of course, every hard cheese needs its counterpart in the form of a soft cheese. Pick something buttery, spreadable, and mild like triple cream brie or a goat cheese. Savory spreads are especially delicious for a less sweet board overall.

Although they have a great flavor on their own, mild, soft, and creamy cheeses are also wonderful when dolloped with a spoonful of sweet jam, like fig jam or apricot preserves.

Cured Sausage

You cannot have a charcuterie board without the meat. But how do you even begin to choose what to buy?

Cured, hard sausage is a great entry-level choice because there is so much variety and you can mix things up with complementary flavors. If you select a peppery, garlicky sopressata, maybe grab a contrasting saucisson sec to balance out your pallet. Don’t forget your hard salami if you can’t make up your mind.

Paté or Terrine

A paté or a terrine can be made from just about anything, and liver mousse is a common option. Plus, it adds a novel texture and different flavor to the typical assortment of cured sausages and meat. Cut off a small piece, spread it on a piece of toast, and voilà.

Something Bready

You aren’t going to get away carb-free here. With all that meat and cheese resting on a platter, the question quickly becomes, “How are you supposed to transfer it to your mouth?”

A sliced baguette is a good choice as a vehicle. So are picos, Spanish breadsticks that are great wrapped in ham. There are even water crackers, which are the ultimate no-fuss option that pairs with the bold flavors of the cheese selection.

Something Jammy + Sweet

You need something bright and tangy to counter all the richness of your cured meats. Cornichons (mini pickles or gherkins), or a smear of grainy mustard are classic choices.

Stone ground mustard is a tangy delicious option that pairs with most cheeses, from Parmigiano-Reggiano to gruyère.

There are also chutneys or jams, which are delicious foils to fatty, salty meat and pair well everything from sliced apples to Marcona almonds to a creamy milk cheese. 

Are you still having trouble selecting the type of meat you want to feature? Here are a few other suggestions based on some more common taste preferences.

If you like bacon…

Have you tried lamb bacon? It’s a thing.

That way you can still enjoy the crackling, crisp texture of perfectly fried bacon, but up the elegance factor because, you know, lamb bacon is fancy.

If you like prosciutto…

Take your prosciutto up a class by sampling some of Spain’s finest. Jamón Ibérico, although pricey, is worth every penny. The buttery texture is perfectly balanced by the salty, cured flavor of the meat. But be aware: jamón comes in different grades depending on what the pigs have been fed. Naturally, this will affect the price tag at grocery stores.

However, if you are looking to impress, try the prized jamón Ibérico de bellota (acorn). This creamy, nutty ham comes from pigs who were exclusively fed acorns and is incomparably delicious.

If you like pepperoni…

Try old-world classics of the American version. Dry-cured meats have an ancient history of production are what pepperoni should taste like. For the Italians, this is often a spicy sopressata. For the Spanish, perhaps a peppery and smoky chorizo. The French tend to keep things mild with saucisson sec that pairs wonderfully with everything.

Once you dive deep into the world of cured meat, you’ll never look at pepperoni the same way.