A French charcuterie board. Here’s the “recipe” (photo © Domino).
 A German charcuterie board. Here’s the “recipe” (photo © Schneiders).
 Italian charcuterie board. Here’s the “recipe” (photo © Harry And David).
 Spanish charcuterie board. Here’s the “recipe” (photo © My Kitchen Love).
 A charcuterie board doesn’t have to be as elaborate as the ones above. Here’s a simpler version for a group of four (photo © Castello Cheese).
One of the easiest ways to entertain is with beer, cocktails, and/or wine and a cheese board. Or a charcuterie board. What’s the difference?
Simply stated, a cheese board is cheese plus accompaniments (fruit, condiments, bread, etc.). A charcuterie board can be meat and accompaniments-only or can include cheese as well.
A bit of history:
Cheese. According to the Dairy Farmers Of Wisconsin trade association, cheese has been around for many centuries, potentially dating back to 1200 B.C.E. (Most recently, in 2018, a salty cheese similar to feta was found in a 3,200-year-old Egyptian tomb. Here’s more history of cheese.
Charcuterie. Charcuterie, on the other hand, is a more recent invention—relatively speaking.
While using salt to cure meats dates back to the Roman Empire (625 B.C.E. to its fall in 476 C.E.), the concept of a modern-style platter of different cured meats was pioneered in 15th century France.
Literally, charcuterie means pork-butcher’s shop, from Middle French chaircuiterie, from chaircutier, pork butcher, from chair cuite, cooked meat. It is both the name for the shop and its products.
It was (and is) the charcutier’s skill that turned a butchered pig into bacon, ballotines*, confit, galantines*, ham, pâtés, rillettes‡, sausages, and terrines†.
CHEESE & CHARCUTERIE MEET UP
Given the French breadth of cheesemaking, it likely didn’t take long to add cheeses to a plate of cured meats, along with some delicious French bread, fresh and dried fruits, nuts, and condiments.
While condiments included such standards as mustard, mostarda, and savory jams (e.g. onion, tomato), straight sweetness was introduced via sweet jams, honey, and membrillo (quince paste fron Spain).
Much more has been added since then. Today, you can find an even greater variety of goodies on charcuterie boards:
Crisps, fine crackers, crostini, and breadsticks
Gherkins, peppadews, and other pickled vegetables and fruits
Sweets: bonbons, caramels, chocolate bars, nut brittle, nut clusters
Specialty breads: cornmeal, raisin, walnut, etc.
Anything else that appeals to you (we’ve seen deviled eggs, Inca corn, and stuffed grape leaves, for example)
We love charcuterie boards and can easily make a meal of them.
They can serve as brunch, lunch, or a light dinner. You simply assemble the ingredients: no cooking required!
Charcuterie boards are also a great complement to wines of all types.
BEYOND FRENCH CHARCUTERIE
While Greece and the Middle East have pastirma (also spelled basturma, highly seasoned, air-dried cured beef), sujuk (dry, spiced sausage), feta, halloumi, labneh, and much more to snack upon, they have a focus on mezze (a great idea for a brunch, lunch, dinner, or party).
But other countries provide ways to create charcuterie boards from their meat and cheese specialties. Here are three of them.
German Style: Serve German ham, sausages (Liverwurst, Mettwusrst [pork sausage], Bierschinken Wurst [pickled pork sausage) Landjäger [smoked and dried pork sausage]), and cheeses such as Bergkäse, Butterkäse, Cambozola, Limburger, with gherkins, pickled beets, sauerkraut, soft pretzels or pretzel bread, dark rye bread—and a selection of German beers.
Italian Style: There’s a wealth of cured meats and sausages: capicola, lardo, mortadella,‘nduja, pancetta, prosciutto, salami, and soppressata. Compliment the meats and cheeses—orgonzola, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pecorino, ricotta salata, and the ever-popular marinated bocconcini (mozzarella balls)—with olives, marinated artichoke hearts, pepperoncini, roasted red peppers, ciabatta, focaccia, grissini (breadsticks), or other Italian breads. Pick Italian red and white wines, and don’t forget the bubblies, like Asti and Prosecco.
Spanish Style: Spain has tapas, which are individual dishes. You can easily have a tapas party with vermouth—a popular Spanish custom for brunch or cocktail party. But you can also create a charcuterie board with serrano (dry-cured Spanish ham), chorizo sausage), and cecina, another salt-cured, air-dried meat that is made from the hind legs of a cow. Manchego is Spain’s best-known cheese, but also look for Cabrales, Idiazábal, Mahón, and Ronca. Add green olives, membrillo (quince paste), Marcona almonds, and figs. If you can find it, serve with a Spanish-style baguette, pan de barra (French-style baguette will do). There are plenty of wonderful dry red Spanish wines—and for a sweeter touch, a pitcher of sangria.
Of course, you can mix and match national specialties. Enjoy every bite (and sip)!
> The Different Types Of Charcuterie
> The Different Types Of Cheese
> More Cheese Condiments
*A ballotine is traditionally a de-boned thigh and/or leg part of a chicken, duck, or other poultry. It is stuffed with forcemeat (ground or sieved meat and other ingredients), which can include ground pork.
A galantine is a dish of boned stuffed meat, typically poultry, that is usually poached and served cold, often covered with aspic. Galantines are often stuffed with forcemeat (which can include pork) and pressed into a cylindrical shape.
The difference: A galantine is usually cylindrical in shape, making it easier to slice. Galantines are also usually wrapped in cloth and poached in their own stock. Ballotines can be either poached or braised and are usually served in a broth made from leftover cooking liquid.
†A terrine is a meat, fish, or vegetable mixture that has been cooked and set in an oblong shape container. It is typically unmolded and served in slices.
‡Rillettes are pork or other meat or fish, preserved with a method similar to confit, where the meat is seasoned then slow-cooked submerged in fat, and cooked at an extremely slow rate for several hours. The meat is then shredded, packed into containers, and covered in fat.