The Best Cheeses and Meats for Charcuterie Boards
Nearly every home entertaining event includes a meat and cheese platter, or as it's more typically called, a charcuterie board. One look at social media and you'll see that these creations have come a long way, becoming more intricate and photo-worthy than ever before. What once was a boring plate of cheese cubes and stale crackers has morphed into the dynamic charcuterie boards we see today.
But with a myriad of cheese and meat options, where does one even start? We compiled a list of the best charcuterie meats and cheeses so you can build the perfect board at your next gathering.
The Best Charcuterie Meats
"When creating a charcuterie board, the key with proteins is to add different levels of flavors and textures," says Matt Pratta, Culinary Director of Sprouts Farmers Market. "Creating a board to share is the perfect opportunity to try new things, so I'd suggest staying away from standards that would typically be used in sandwiches or for everyday meals, and instead look for specialty cheeses and meats that combine different flavors. I always suggest selecting items that are salty, spicy, dry, and rich to keep the board varied."
With variety as the guiding principle, here are six meats to consider for your next charcuterie or grazing board.
Italian dry salami
Italian dry salami is a fermented, air-dried pork or beef sausage seasoned with Italian spices and a touch of red wine for a savory, spicy, and sweet flavor profile. This type of salami is also brighter tasting and softer than other salami, and keeps well at room temperature settings. As for presentation, try using a glass to mold salami slices into a rosette shape or quarter folding the meat and overlapping slices across the board. You can also slice dry salami into coins so it's easier to handle and fit neatly on crackers.
Prosciutto has become a standard charcuterie board pick, enchanting cured meat lovers worldwide with its salty and savory taste. The delicate tissue-paper-thin layer of fat responsible for the meat's richness and strong flavor is one of its most recognizable features. The rosette method of presentation is perfect for prosciutto because the frail slivers can be challenging to serve. Shaping them into blossoms makes them easier to grab as a tidy package, but you can also opt to make ribbons out of the slices instead, for less handling.
Coppa, also knows as capicola, is another popular choice. This thinly sliced pork cold cut is delicately spiced and slightly smoky. It's very similar to prosciutto but has a higher fat content. Presentation usually involves folding the coppa into thirds then rolling into cone-like shapes. Serve coppa alongside slices of pear or pickled radishes.
While similar in shape to salami, soppressata is made from leaner cuts that are more coarsely ground. It comes in three different varieties: white, sweet, and spicy. It pairs well with semi-soft cheeses like havarti or oil-packed vegetables like mushrooms and string beans. To serve, slice thinly and remove the casing before eating.
Another favorite on charcuterie boards is saucisson sec, a classic French version of dried salami. Saucisson sec is one of the most famous charcuterie in France, seasoned with sea salt, pepper, and garlic. Pair it with a smear of soft cheese on a slice of baguette.
Bresaola is a lean cured meat, less fatty than prosciutto, and milder in flavor. It is salty with hints of spice like garlic and pepper, with a very meaty taste. This Italian meat is usually made with beef, but can occasionally be made with horse or venison in Europe. It is leaner than many other cured meats and, in addition to black pepper, is typically flavored with juniper and cloves. Bresaola's rich flavor makes it perfect for pairing with hard cheese, olives, and nuts.
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The Best Charcuterie Cheeses
When making your cheese selections, it's important to have a mix of hard and soft cheeses as well as salty and sweet options. Think about layering flavors by serving the cheese with fig spread, jam, honey, or peppered jelly.
The following cheeses encompass a spectrum of flavors, textures, finishes, and aesthetics, all of which come together for a sophisticated experience.
Brie is a soft, cow's milk cheese named after the Brie region of France. Its round shape and bloomy rind of white mold makes it one of the most recognizable soft cheeses around. With a melting, creamy body and slightly nutty aroma, it is a very versatile cheese. You can pair it with rich meats, or go a sweeter route and top it with jam or honey. While some prefer to trim the rind, you don't have to—it's completely edible and even considered a delicacy.
According to sisters Jackie Cardace and Janel Presi of Grazing Girls, "It's creamy, rich, and buttery, with a bloomy rind." If you don't know where to start, Pratta recommends the St. Rocco Triple Crème Brie, which is particularly rich and luxurious. "[It's] creamy and classic," he states.
Gouda is one of the Netherlands' most famous exports and national treasures—sweet, creamy, semi-hard, and among the most popular cheeses worldwide. In fact, it's so popular that it's often requested by Cardace and Presi's clients, specifically. Gouda comes in a wide variety—smoked, with flavors added in like truffle—but Pratta's go-to is the 18-month matured Vintage Lot-18 by Artikaas, a six-generation cheesemaker.
As cheddar ages, it gets a firm but crumbly texture and develops earthy tones and a sharper bite. It comes in the familiar yellow variety as well as white. It also gets sharper with time. Extra sharp cheddar is aged, at minimum, 10 years. On a charcuterie board, you can cut cheddar into bite sized cubes or wedges and place it next to sliced apples or grapes. The Grazing Girls prefer white cheddar for its bold bite, and Pratta likes Beehive Cheese's Queen Bee Porcini Cheddar, where the "cheddar is amped up with the addition of porcini mushroom dust, adding an earthy, sweet taste."
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Manchego is an earthy, semi-soft sheep cheese made in the La Mancha region of Spain. It has a deep yellow color, and a flavor profile described as tangy and nutty with grassy aromas. It pairs well with salty, spicy meats and can be served with bread, marinated olives, and marcona almonds. Slice manchego into thin wedges—the flavor of the cheese is strong, so you don't need a lot to get a flavorful bite.
Goat cheese is a great addition to any board because it comes in plenty of varieties. A look at your local cheese store should turn up flavored varieties that incorporate lavender, herbs, spices, wines, berries and more. Because of the cheese's creamy, soft, and slightly tangy, sweet flavors often do much to smooth out the strength of this cheese's characteristic flavor.
Hanane Rasuli, food stylist and owner of French Boards and Bites NY, often chooses honey goat cheese and Pratta likes the Chavrie Cranberry and Orange Peel—a particularly good pick for holiday boards.
Finally, have fun when choosing your charcuterie board items. Experiment, taste, compare, and explore before deciding on what to serve your guests. With these picks as your core features, you can bet no one will be bored with your board.