How to create a restaurant caliber charcuterie board

Jon helped me put together some charcuterie boards for my recent Capsule Wardrobe Workshop at West Elm. The results were divine, if I do say so myself. Good enough to eat? Yep.

At first, one would imagine a meat and cheese board to be made up of just that: meat and cheese. But upon close examination of beautiful boards at restaurants (and Jon's work with these), I realized that it is just as much about all the other stuff as it is the meat and cheese. This is actually a positive thing for do-it-at-homers because the filler stuff tends to be less expensive than the meat and cheese. And the more variety you have, the more interesting the final product will be, in both appearance and taste. Another thing I realized in researching the prettiest charcuterie boards is that the cheese is often already sliced or broken apart. That way, everything is easy to grab and mix without the use of too many knives or other utensils. I had been so used to leaving wedges of cheese whole, because they’re so pretty that way, too. But pre-slicing allows you much more flexibility in arranging the different kinds creatively. Lastly, I realized that a bountiful, rustic display is key; in other words; I loved the look of a bursting-at-the-seams board that isn't intimidating for guests to grab from, as opposed to a perfectly placed arrangement that makes people scared to mess it up.

The keys to creating a restaurant caliber charcuterie board

  1. Tons of variety in color, texture, taste

  2. Adding “filler” and freshness with herbs and other elements

  3. Beautiful presentation

So, the first step in attempting a restaurant caliber charcuterie board is the most important step: collecting your ingredients. I’d say you should get at least a couple things in each of the following categories, keeping your guests’ preferences in mind.

Charcuterie components

Crackers or bread
Other vegetables, such as roasted peppers or marinated tomatoes
Fresh fruit
Dried fruit
Aromatic and pretty herbs, such as thyme, mint, or basil
Mustard, honey, or other sauces

To break parts of that list down further, here are some great fruit elements to add:

Dried apricots
Apple or pear slices

And my favorite pickled things to add:

Jalapenos or other peppers

Once you’ve gotten all of your charcuterie components, choose a board or other serving plate, or more than one if need be. I went with two different but complementary wooden boards—one round and the other rectangular (both are from HomeGoods). I laid down some pretty natural colored parchment squares because it protects your serving-ware and also contributes to a restaurant-esque aesthetic. I also used two little shallow plates for the “wet” stuff: olives and grilled peppers. I think it’s a great idea to use these because not only do they add dimension to an otherwise flat board, but they keep more divisive flavors, such as olives, from taking over anything else.

With the boards in front of you and the paper set, put in place any plates or bowls you’ll be using so you can build around them. Then, make sure all of your ingredients are set out in front of you so you can see everything you’re working with.

As a general rule, you want the finished product to be as full looking as possible, and the best way to achieve that is to think about filling a jar with rocks, pebbles, and sand: start with the biggest items first, because the smaller pieces can fill in all the cracks later. Also, keep color in mind. If you’re using both strawberries and raspberries, space them apart, since they’re both red elements. So, you’ll start with the bigger items that take up the most space first, and then get artsy with the more colorful elements.

Begin plating the cheeses and meats first. Start with the cheese, and arrange little piles of each type in a few places around the boards, spaced out pretty well. Do the same with the meat. Depending on how many different kinds of meats and cheeses you have, you can decide whether you want to have more than one pile of the same thing, although I prefer not to repeat if I don’t have to (I think it is more user-friendly when each little section is its own thing, and people can remember what they’ve already tried).

Then, add in your crackers and breads, spaced apart from each other, in piles. I like to put these in several spots on the board so that there are multiple places from which to grab carbohydrate vessels :)

Then, place those larger colorful items throughout the board: pickles, berries, etc. Pay attention to the overall spread and place colored items opposite each other or spread apart so that no part of the board is more dull than another in color. And this is the step for beginning to really fill in the board, so don’t be shy.

Then, place your herbs. They can act as more of a bed for some elements, or they can lay on their own, sprinkled in between other items.

If you’re using any saucy elements (such as mustards or hot sauces), put a few dabs throughout, but I’d stick to only one dab per item, so that people know what they’re working with. Because I was serving this at a cocktail hour with several people serving themselves onto side plates, I wanted to keep things simple and easy to handle without utensils, so I didn’t include any sauces or dips.

At this time, if you feel like you have more room to make your cheese and meat piles a bit larger, do so. The same is true for the fruits, pickles, etc. You want the spread to look full.

Lastly, sprinkle in the smallest items—the dried fruits and nuts. I like to still keep the sprinkle thick and purposeful (i.e. not one almond here, another there, but rather little groupings of almonds throughout). Things pack more of a punch when they’re grouped together to create an overall colorful canvas.

And there you have it! The result should be a beautiful, bountiful, colorful spread that, if not restaurant worthy, is certainly Insta-worthy :) All you need is a great cocktail or bottle of wine to finish things.