Charcuterie boards are the perfect appetizer or snack with an array of dry cured meats, cheeses, dips, fruits, nuts, and crackers. This beginner's guide shows you how to make an easy, customizable board for any occasion.
What is a charcuterie board?
A classic charcuterie board is a meat and cheese platter that can include any variety of dry cured meats, hard and soft cheeses, fruits, brined vegetables, nuts, spreads, and crackers.
Charcuterie, pronounced [shahr-KOO-tuhr-ee], traditionally refers to cured meats such as salami or prosciutto and spreads such as rilette or pate. Since a charcuterie board often includes cured meats with cheeses and various other items, it's also called a meat and cheese board – which is clearly less fun to pronounce.
More recently, food boards have evolved into unique themes such as the Christmas charcuterie board, dessert board, and fruit board to name a few. You can turn anything into a board! But for now, I'm sharing a simple plan to help you make a classic charcuterie board.
Why you'll love DIY food boards
Zero experience is required. In fact, you'll see how simple a charcuterie board can really be in my how-to section below.
There are no rules. You simply set a bunch of delicious food items on a board and make adjustments as you go – scoot this, slide that, etc.
You can get as bougie or budget as you like! My super power is helping you make budget look bougie – or be a big spender if it suits you.
Charcuterie platters are fun! They're fun to plan, make, serve, and eat! In fact, they often become a vital centerpiece that says "you're at a great party!"
Even a modest charcuterie board can be a stunner and you'll be remembered for going out of your way. We'll keep it a secret that you didn't.
What to put on a charcuterie board
Again, no rules here, but a classic Italian board typically includes dry cured meats, cheeses, fruits, brined vegetables, nuts, spreads, and crackers. It's simple, yet results in a well-balanced meat and cheese board.
The idea is to pick items with opposing textures and flavors so you end up with a range of savory, sweet, salty, crunchy, crispy, and creamy. I've included my shopping list of options in the next section.
Traci's shopping list
This is a flexible list of my favorite charcuterie items. When I build a board for 6-8 people, I'll select 1 or 2 items (about 8 to 12 ounces each) from each primary category on this list – so, 2 meats, 2 cheeses, 2 fruits, etc. If you'd like to replicate the board in my photos, visit the recipe card below for exact items and amounts.
CURED ITALIAN MEATS
- salami, prosciutto, speck, coppa, beef bresaola, mortadella
- soft cheese – brie, goat cheese, cambazola blue, whipped feta, burrata
- firm 'aged' cheese – aged gouda, manchego, gruyere, parmesan, cheddar
- crumbled cheese – blue cheese, gorgonzola, feta
- fresh fruit – apples, berries, grapes, pears, cherries, pomegranate, oranges
- dried fruit – figs, dates, apricots, yellow raisins, cranberries, candied oranges, persimmons
- brined or pickled – olives, onions, artichokes, pickles, cornichons, peppers
- sweet – candied walnuts or chocolate covered almonds
- dry roasted or smoked – pistachios, cashews, marcona almonds, dry roasted almonds, and smoked almonds (my fav!)
- savory – pesto, olive tapenade, hummus, onion dip, blue cheese or ranch dip, olive oil bread dip, mustard, hot pepper spread
- sweet – jam, honey, balsamic glaze, chocolate spread
CRACKERS / BREAD
- crackers – water crackers, crisps, bagel chips, pita chips
- bread – sliced bread, crostini, breadsticks
How to make a charcuterie board for beginners
Step 1. Plan and shop your food board items – To make a board for 6-8 people, I recommend selecting 1 or 2 items (8 to 12 ounces each) from each major category on my shopping list.
Step 2. Select a board – Use a stone, marble, or wood board of any shape and size, rimmed or not. I used my favorite $20 round charcuterie board for these photos. You can also use a baking sheet, a simple dinner plate, or parchment paper on any flat surface. If you want to get fancy, this walnut cutting board makes a beautiful rectangle base.
Step 3. Add cheeses and bowl ingredients first – Prep all cheeses as desired (slice, crumble, etc) and place on the board. Fill bowls and ramekins with dips, spreads, pickled items, etc., and place them on the board. If needed, you can switch to a larger or smaller board for your charcuterie base.
Step 4. Add cured meats – I recommend the salami rose for a small charcuterie board and multiple roses for a large board. You can also fold salami into halves or quarters and place them in piles or lines. As you can see in my photos, ribbon folds add volume to the prosciutto and make it easier to pick up.
Step 5. Add everything else – Fill the remaining space on the board with fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, and crackers or crostini. Don't be afraid to scoot items around to make everything fit. You can see that I moved a few of my items around with each phase. Once everything is in place, you're ready to serve!
Tools and utensils
- small bowls or souffle ramekins – Use these to contain brined items, dips, etc.
- condiment spoons - I recommend these compact serving spoons for dips, spreads, etc.
- cheese knives – Useful when serving cheese blocks, but not required if you sliced cheese in advance.
- cheese accessory set – Allows you to quickly build your board utensil collection, but it's not required.
- small plates and napkins – An essential serving item for a food board.
- plain toothpicks or party toothpicks - These make it easy for guests to pick up meat and cheese.
Tips for beginners
Know your budget – I always love a good value, so I'll shop Trader Joe's and Aldi for small charcuterie board items and Costco when building a large board.
Any flat item or flat surface can be used as a charcuterie board. So, you don't need to buy an expensive board unless you want to.
Allow cheeses to rest at room temperature at least 30 minutes before serving because the warmer temperature brings out their true flavor profile.
Keep items covered before serving – Air is an enemy of charcuterie boards because it dries out meat, cheese, fruit, dips, etc. This plastic food wrap works miracles for covering assembled trays.
Be flexible – Don't get hung up on ingredient selections or visual outcomes. Charcuterie ingredients are beautiful and delicious on their own, so your board creation will likely reflect that – even with minimal effort.
Frequently asked questions
You can use a wood cutting board, stone or marble slab, rimmed baking sheet, dinner plate, pizza peel, or parchment paper on any flat surface, to name a few. The options are endless!
A classic charcuterie tray typically includes cured meats, cheeses, fresh and dried fruits, brined vegetables, nuts, spreads, and crackers. However, food boards are customizable with endless options and themes, so explore and have fun!
Yes! You can assemble and refrigerate your platter up to 24 hours ahead. Use plastic wrap or airtight containers to prevent air exposure. Add crackers or bread right before serving.
I invite you to post your questions in the comments section below. Or tag me on Instagram with your own charcuterie tray creations. xo Traci
Traci's Simple Charcuterie Platter
Serves 6-8 people. See recipe footnote to customize these items.
- 8 ounces Gruyere Cheese, or other hard cheese
- 4 ounces Brie Cheese, or other soft-rind cheese
- 1 cup Olives, I use Castelvetrano
- ½ cup Calabrian Pepper Spread, or other spread
- ½ cup Peach Jam, or other variety
- 8 ounces Italian Dry Salami, thinly sliced
- 6 ounces Prosciutto Di Parma, thinly sliced
- 1 cup Blueberries
- 8 ounces Water Crackers, or other variety
- ½ cup Golden Raisins
- 1 cup Smoked Almonds, or other nuts
- Place GRUYERE CHEESE and BRIE CHEESE on the board. Place OLIVES, SPREAD, and JAM in small bowls on the board.
- Add SALAMI (rose optional) and ribbon-folded PROSCIUTTO to the board, adjusting other items as needed.
- Add BLUEBERRIES and CRACKERS.
- Fill in any empty spaces with GOLDEN RAISINS and ALMONDS.
- Serve charcuterie board at room temperature with serving utensils.Pro tip: Allow cheeses to rest at room temperature about 30 minutes before serving to bring out their full flavor.
Traci's Recipe Notes
Nutrition data provided as courtesy estimates using unbranded ingredients from a nutrition database. Please consult preferred resource for precise data.