Perfecting the Platter

If you’re entertaining and want to create the right impression without spending hours in the kitchen, the charcuterie board is for you!

But first, what is it?

Think starter platter and tasting board. Think picnic of tasty delights. A charcuterie board includes a variety of meats, cheeses, fresh produce and breads that can be paired in mouth-watering combinations. It’s a fun do-it-yourself experience for guests that is sure to please the fussiest of eaters. Plus, with the option to nibble from the board, guests are looked after without you needing to keep dashing to the kitchen.

Your charcuterie board can be as easy or as sophisticated as you like. Make the food yourself, visit your local deli, market or butcher, or simply buy the ingredients from your local supermarket.

Creating and serving Italian-inspired charcuterie boards, Cloudland Chef Paolo Camisotti explains that they can have a presence at dinner, lunch or as an aperitif. Traditionally, Easter is the period of the year when we start eating the cured meat prepared at Christmas time, making the charcuterie board the perfect addition to any Easter occasion.

“Arranging a charcuterie board might seem overwhelming at first glance, but it’s actually quite easy and enjoyable and really brings out your creative side.

“It’s a no-fuss appetiser – the first thing your guests will eat – and can be put together in under 10 minutes. You don’t need to spend any time cooking and it looks more than impressive.

“Opt for a classic board, based on cured meats, or something more diverse. Make it an interactive experience for your guests, include something spreadable, something sliced and something you can cut.

“Combine it with some good quality cheeses and bread, or a bread stick, and it can even taste better when paired with a good glass of wine.

“When you see a well prepared charcuterie board of good quality meat, its beautiful colour, texture and aroma can make you very hungry!”

Paolo’s top tips on arranging a charcuterie board.

Start with your meat

Charcuterie is the French word for smoked, dry-cured or cooked meats, so make meat the hero.

Paolo says it’s best to use a combination of raw, cured meat and cooked meat, as well as a range of flavours, from mild through to big and bold.

“If you aren’t a meat connoisseur, pop into your local butcher to get some advice on what meats contrast one another so there’s plenty to suit different pallets.

“I love to see great variety: Mortadella, Prosciutto di Parma Salami, Prosciutto Cotto — you can pick what you really like the most.

“If you’re feeling particularly extravagant, try a spreadable meat like a pate or terrine, which most of your guests will be familiar with. But if you really want to impress those fine-dining guests, source or cook your own rillettes – a shredded meat (usually pork, duck or rabbit) that has been slowly cooked in fat and is served in a jar and spread over bread.”

Select a variety of cheese

Paolo’s number one rule when selecting cheese for your charcuterie board is to mix it up.

“Find a combination of aged, soft, firm, crumbly or creamy cheeses as well as those made on different types of milk like cow, goat and sheep, because they all offer different tastes and textures.”

Some real crowd-pleasers include cheddar, gouda, brie or a blue cheese. Go further afield and source cheese you don’t see every day like chevre (goat cheese) or brillat-savarin and la tur.

Add your condiments

Choose a range of fruits, vegetables, preserves and breads to pair with the meat and cheese and to add colour, flavour and texture to the spread.

  • Seasonal fresh fruit such as berries, grapes and figs – add a sweetness and a pop of colour.
  • Pickled vegetables like gherkin, pickles and olives – these briny snacks wake up and cleanse the palate and round out the other flavours.
  • Fresh bread – visit your local bakery for some sourdough or crusty bread served toasted with oil or freshly cut. Use some crackers for a variety of textures and extra crunch.
  • Spreads like hummus and bean dip – perfect for spreading over bread or crackers as a base to stack your meat and cheese.
  • Jams and preserves like honey, chutney, fig spread, or quince paste – for extra flavour and sweetness.

Get creative with your arrangement

Paolo believes the best part of a charcuterie board is when you get to put it all together.

“Lay out your ingredients any way you like, you really can’t go wrong. Use photos of other charcuterie boards as inspiration.

“Use a serving board or platter that can be easily passed around, or even just some brown butchers paper laid out on a table.

“Start with your cheese and jars of spreads and jams and then place the varieties of rolled, sliced and whole meats around them. Scatter bread and crackers to fill up space and then add your fruit and vegetables for an array of colour.

“Most importantly, have fun while you’re doing it!”

Choose the perfect partner

Wine or craft beer make the perfect partner for a charcuterie board. Wine tastes best when you’re hungry because your tastebuds are alive and at their most receptive. Try pairing an oaky, aged Chardonnay with truffle cheddar to bring out the best flavours. Another great combination is to try an IPA (India Pale Ale) or Shiraz with Brie and Mild Sopressata.