Charcuterie for Two

How we've learned to assemble a charcuterie board of cured meats, cheeses, crackers, fruits, vegetables and more. It's fun. It's festive. And around here, it's tradition ... and Dinner for Two!

Charcuterie for Two ♥ Practical tips and ideas for convivial meals for special occasions and celebrations.

Practical Tips & Ideas for Building a Charcuterie Board, What to Buy, What to Maybe Make. Perfect for Special Occasions Like Birthdays, Anniversaries, Valentine's, Holidays, Snow Days, Summer Evenings and Just Because. Hearty & Filling. Weeknight Easy, Weekend Special.

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A New Tradition, Born of the Pandemic.

We started our "Charcuterie Friday" tradition Christmas before last, moving through December including Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

Remember late 2021? We all wanted to celebrate the holidays but for many of us, the reality was, it needed to be just us for another year rather than the much-desired return to the usual gatherings of family and friends.

But we continued doing charcuterie every so often throughout the year, no schedule though often for "Birthday Eves".

Enter the holidays of late 2022. We switched to Charcuterie Saturdays including Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, just for us, just for fun, just because we had come to love our charcuterie tradition.

We did so many charcuterie boards, we got good at it! Learning how much to arrange on a board. The meats and cheeses that became our favorites. Whether crackers or breads were better. How important pickles are! And so much more ...

Then one night, I was a bit under the weather so my husband put together the weekly meal. Despite his thoughtfulness and concentrated effort, that charcuterie board delivered a big lesson.

Just "use whatever you want" for charcuterie is bad advice, no matter what "they" say. It really doesn't work.

Naturally, I asked the big question.

Exactly what does make a good charcuterie board?

So here I'm sharing what works for us and why ... with any luck, it's a good head start for all who might be inspired to assemble their charcuterie boards with personal ideas and creativity.

PS Some of the pictures aren't up to my usual standards, many were just quick snaps on my phone with less than perfect lighting conditions.

PPS Amazon links below are "affiliate links". What's that? My Disclosure Promise

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How do you save and share favorite recipes? recipes that fit your personal cooking style? a particular recipe your mom or daughter or best friend would just love? If this guide to charcuterie inspires you, please do save and share! I'd be honored ...

Charcuterie for Two ♥ Practical tips and ideas for convivial meals for special occasions and celebrations.

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What, Exactly, Is Charcuterie?

HOW TO PRONOUNCE [shar-KOO-tuh-ree]

WHAT IT IS Charcuterie is the French word for preparing meats in a way that makes them distinct and stand-alone. Think cured meats. Think sausages. Think bacon. Think ham. But also think meat pâtés and terrines.

But don't get overwhelmed. Seriously, if you've ever put slices of sausage and cheese on a plate, you're halfway to charcuterie. If you've ever brought home a platter of meats and cheeses all in an array, you're got it. Today's charcuterie boards are just more crowded, more colorful, more varied, more ... Instagram-y.

Charcuterie for Two ♥ Practical tips and ideas for convivial meals for special occasions and celebrations.

Our first charcuterie board, purchased from a local company | Clockwise | Crackers | Salami | Fresh Rosemary | Marcona Almonds | Crackers | Golden Gooseberries | Black Raspberries | Prosciutto | Mustard | Aged Comte | Cucumber Rounds | Fresh Cranberries (not recommended) | Olives | Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog

WHAT IT'S BECOME In today's mainstream food world, charcuterie has come to suggest a charcuterie board or a charcuterie platter, that is, a crowded tray of cured meats, cheeses, crackers and condiments, similar to a veggie tray except meats and cheeses.

In today's mad food world where trends last for at least a whole hot minute, charcuterie boards have taken on many wild manifestations like pancake boards, candy boards, even, ugh, last year's butter boards.

WHAT IT MEANS TO US For us, Charcuterie for Two has come to mean more than the food. It's a welcome respite at the end of the week; a convivial meal over a glass or two of wine; an excuse to slow down the passage of time; a reminder to live in the moment.

The "Stuff" of a Charcuterie Board

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE We already had a good platter, ramekins, cheese knives, spreaders, etc. and you might well find things that will work in your own cupboards. None are "required" ... they just make things easy to assemble, pretty to look at!

WHAT YOU MIGHT WANT If you're in the mood to look for special stuff for charcuterie without big expense, HomeGoods is a great resource.

Charcuterie for Two ♥ Practical tips and ideas for convivial meals for special occasions and celebrations.

Winter Charcuterie | Clockwise | Cornichons | Rusks | Mini Peppers | Trader Joe's Fromage Pavé with Tangerine Sections | ??? | Aldi's Fig & Rosemary Cracker Crisps | Cheese Sticks | Marcona Almonds | Venison Sausage | Flavor Bombs Tomatoes | Volpi Roltini (not recommended) | Sardine Chunks

  • The "Board" – Many folks use flat wood boards for charcuterie but we prefer a tray or platter for two reasons: sides and handles.
  • With sides, nothing slips off. With handles, I can assemble the board, slip it in the fridge, then move it to the kitchen table or outside onto the summer porch.
  • Our tray is about 12x16 inches and is the perfect size for a meal-size Charcuterie for Two: you'll see that we use the same one, time after time. It does have a wood base which needs babying, no doubt I'd prefer something more durable, especially if it were dishwasher safe.
  • FYI this tray gets put to good use besides charcuterie, often for quick bite-size appetizers before dinner or serving drinks for a party.

  • Parchment or Foil – Use torn parchment to create "zones" for different foods, they also prevent oily foods from permeating the wood tray. For parchment, I just tear my usual pre-cut sheetpan parchment.

  • Small Ramekins – These are easy to find and inexpensive, also easy to throw in the dishwasher. I happen to love the color they add to the platter.

  • Mini Cast Iron Servers – These are useful for hot foods, which we do every so often. We have three, all purchased long before doing charcuterie, all from Lodge. They range in size from small to slightly bigger to slightly bigger still, an oval, a rectangle and a round. We love them all!

  • Charcuterie for Two ♥ Practical tips and ideas for convivial meals for special occasions and celebrations.

    New Year's Eve | Clockwise | Cheese Sticks | Cranberry Jam | Tangerine Pieces | Mini Peppers | Havarti | Olives | ??? | Ham | Homemade Pub Cheese | Walnuts | Cheddar | Dates | Cornichons

  • Small Cheese Knives – We do use these but over time, I've taken to pre-cutting most cheeses so now say special cheese knives are definitely optional. But they make such good gifts, you may well already have a set or two.

  • Small Cheese Handles – But if you're going to use cheese knives, consider a small investment in something like these three-prong acrylic cheese holders (affiliate link). With these, someone can hold a piece of cheese steady with one hand while cutting with the other. Do insert the holder on one edge of the cheese, not in the center.

  • Cracker/Bread Containers – We don't use one/two of these every time but they are useful in two situations. First, when the tray fills up with other foods so the breads/crackers need to be off-tray. Second, to separate the breads/crackers from moist foods on the tray. The ones in the photos were purchased long ago but similar cracker holders are easy to find.

  • Toothpick Holder & Toothpicks – These were a late inspiration but now go on every tray. Very handy! Or should I say, "finger-y"?!

  • Small Lunch Plates – Let's switch to our individual plates. Since our practice is to plop the charcuterie tray on the table between us, plates are more for collecting a few bites than for a full meal. So we use small rectangular lunch plates, a salad plate would work great too.
Charcuterie for Two ♥ Practical tips and ideas for convivial meals for special occasions and celebrations.

December Charcuterie Friday | Clockwise | Homemade Pub Cheese | Half-Sour Pickles | Stuffed Mushrooms with Tomato & Mozzarella | Warm Sausage Bites | Crackers | Roasted Roma Tomatoes | ??? | Golden Gooseberries | Bell Pepper Strips | Pickled Okra

  • "Stabbing" Forks – But since the tray is right there, I also add long, small forks (actually appetizer forks?) and knives (appetizer spreaders) to both lunch plates so we can each stab what we like, spread what we want. Try to avoid foods that require an actual fork and/or knife.

Best Foods for Charcuterie Boards

Again, I'm sharing what works for us. Your "best" may be entirely different, we learned ours over a couple of years and a couple of dozen boards.

And I'm still experimenting! In fact, I find that half the fun is trying something new every time. Some work, some don't but a few are real keepers, ones to repeat over time.

Charcuterie for Two ♥ Practical tips and ideas for convivial meals for special occasions and celebrations.

Christmas Eve | Clockwise | Cornichons | Rye Crisp | Flavor Bomb Tomatoes | Cucumber Rounds | Triple Brie with Pistachios | Smoked Salmon Spread | Crab Salad | Whole Foods Salmon "Candy"

  • Meats Cured meats are traditional, they needn't be fancy or artisanal but it is kinda fun to keep an eye out for local sausages. We especially like Thuringer and tend to prefer firm sausages more than the Italian-style thin-sliced cured meats like prosciutto but that's just us.
  • If you can get taste tests, do. We find that many sausages look different from one another but kinda taste the same.
  • I'm not a fan of the charcuterie meats from Trader Joe's and Sam's Club, they just seem mass-produced. If you have a Jewish deli nearby or a local butcher who makes sausage? Or an international grocery that imports sausages? Go for it. (Here in St. Louis, Global Foods in Kirkwood has an amazing selection.)
  • For anyone avoiding cured meat, Whole Foods has a selection of uncured sausages, they're really good.
  • Slice the meats thin or in small bites, easy to plate in an array or a mound. Cutting the meats on an angle adds visual interest.

  • Seafood My husband smokes the most magnificent shrimp, these are wonderful, usually leftover from dinner the night before. Smoked scallops are good too.

  • Tinned Fish I had high hopes for sardines, etc that tend to collect. But they don't really work, too oily, too strong, too fishy. That said, once we did a Nordic charcuterie board with hot smoked salmon, gravlax and pickled herring: that worked!

  • Cheeses Aim for a couple of cheeses. If you can find cheese curds, they're perfect! If one cheese is really rich, a brie say, one may well be plenty.
  • You'll need less cheese than you think. If you buy a small piece of cheese, great. If it's big, you don't have to put it all out, just cut into a smaller piece.
  • Whole Foods puts oddball cheeses in a special basket in their cheese departments, often pricey cheeses but in small pieces. This is a fun, not-too-pricey way to sample good cheeses. But they're also popular so you can't always count on finding something. Whole Foods also carries some local cheeses.
  • But truly, don't stress if what you've got is plain cheddar, plain Swiss, etc.
  • Trader Joe's is another good source for interesting cheeses, we really love the Fromage Pavé, a square of a soft ripened cheese, a seasonal item.
  • Last year, I heard that some Aldi's locations have a nice selection of cheese during the holidays, nothing much worked for us.

  • A Spreadable Cheese or Spreadable Something Usually, I make special spreads and for me, they are just as important as whole cheese. Homemade Pub Cheese is very good. I also mix cream cheese with some Homemade Whole Cranberry Sauce, that really works. Other times, I made Homemade Ricotta, another hit.
Charcuterie for Two ♥ Practical tips and ideas for convivial meals for special occasions and celebrations.

New Year's Eve | Clockwise | Colby Jack Slices | Sausage Bites | Celery Sticks | ? Cheese | Smoked Shrimp | Mini Peppers | Cornichons | Sausage Bites | Aldi's Fig & Rosemary Cracker Crisps | Homemade Pub Cheese

  • Crackers & Bread You really only need one or maybe two crackers. Mostly, I'd recommend quite plain crackers but I also especially like the crisp crackers with nuts and dried fruit that are cut very thin.
  • We like a thin-cut individual rolls too, the seed-duction rolls from Whole Foods are wonderful.
  • Cheese sticks may look good as "architectural interest" but get stale fast.

  • Pickled Something Don't skip something that's sharp! Tiny little cornichons are excellent, so are pickled okra. We do brined olives on occasion but they aren't our favorite.

  • Condiments A little good mustard is great, so are savory chutneys. We find we're not keen on chutneys or jams that lean sweet.

  • Nuts Avoid anything that needs shelling or is too small to eat one or two at a time.
  • Whole salted almonds are our favorite but oh my, do try marcona almonds too. We really like the "Nuts About Rosemary Mix" from Trader Joe's, these are a close match, Party Nuts with Fresh Rosemary.

  • Vegetables A little vegetable goes a long way but the freshness is essential. Try to get past the usual carrots and celery sticks but hey, if that's what you have, go for it.
  • Mini tomatoes work and so do mini peppers and small rounds of Persian cucumbers. Who's tried the Flavor Bomb Tomatoes, extra pretty on the vine?
Charcuterie for Two ♥ Practical tips and ideas for convivial meals for special occasions and celebrations.

Summer Birthday Eve | Clockwise | Cottage Cheese Spread (recipe to come) | Trader Joe's White Stilton with Apricots | Whole Foods Applegate Uncured Genoa Salami | Havarti with Dill | Pistachios | Crackers | Fresh Cherries

  • Fruit Small pieces of fruit are great additions to these boards. Apple slices. Tangerine sections. Fresh figs in season (swoon). Blackberries. Look for oddball things at the grocery, we love the "golden gooseberries" which are a seasonal item at Trader Joe's. Avoid anything too wet.
  • Be sure that the fruit may be eaten alone or with something else. The first time I doctored a container of pub cheese (see the Semi-Homemade version of Pub Cheese), it was soooo good with apple slices.

  • Something Sweet? Our charcuterie boards rarely include anything sweet and we rarely do dessert, either. The meats, the cheeses, the wine ... it's enough.

  • Charcuterie for Two ... or Four? or More? For two, we make charcuterie dinner and call it a day.
  • But charcuterie is also a very convivial social food, especially if you have a way to give everyone easy access to the platter. When we do it for four, I put the platter in the center of the table on a lazy susan and usually serve a big salad too.

More Tips for Charcuterie

  • Check Your Fridge and Pantry First You may well have some olives, some pickles, a chutney, some crackers.

  • Variety Is Fun But Too Many Options Is Work It's easy to go overboard (ahem), on a charcuterie board. I aim for 3-5 things in ramekins, 2 cheeses or 1 cheese and a spreadable cheese, 1-2 cured meats, 1-2 crackers or breads, 1 fruit maybe fresh but more often dried, 1 dip/sauce/spread, 1 or 2 raw vegetables, 1 pickled something.
Charcuterie for Two ♥ Practical tips and ideas for convivial meals for special occasions and celebrations.

Summer Birthday Boxing Day | Clockwise | Cottage Cheese Dip (recipe coming) | Trader Joe's White Stilton with Apricots | Whole Foods Seed-uction Rolls | Whole Foods Applegate Uncured Genoa Salami | Smoked Whole Almonds | Mini Peppers | Pistachios | Fresh Cherries | Cucumber Lengths | String Cheese Bites | Havarti with Dill

  • Allow Time It takes a good 30 minutes to put together Charcuterie for Two but in the beginning, when I was just getting started, it took longer than that.

  • Size Up Your Charcuterie Board Before starting, I estimate how much room the meats and cheeses will take up, then decide whether to use three or five (always an odd number) ramekins. These will anchor the board.

  • Consider a Theme or At Least Sticking with a Natural Collection of Foods Once, we had cured our own salmon gravlax (recipe to come!) For some reason, the spread that night was ricotta stirred with honey, it wasn't a good match, I should've done something with capers or fresh dill.

  • Make One Thing, Buy the Rest Charcuterie nights are about as close as I get to a "night off" in the kitchen but I do try to make one thing, special, for the board.
Charcuterie for Two ♥ Practical tips and ideas for convivial meals for special occasions and celebrations.

Spring Charcuterie for Four | Clockwise | Smoked Whitefish | Cornichons | Homemade Finnish Mustard | Refrigerator Pickled Beets | Tangerine Sections | Sausage Bites | Crackers | Wheat Thins | Sharp Cheddar | Comte | Smoked Whitefish Spread | Pickled Herring | Venison Bites | Sliced Radishes | Cherry Bomb Tomatoes

  • One Special Something One night my husband smoked some quail, some salmon, some sablefish. One would have been special. Three was too much. Another time, I bought some "candied salmon" from Whole Foods and having just one special something made it all the more enjoyable.

  • Something Pickled! This is the one thing I've learned to never skip. A charcuterie board without something to contrast with the rich meats and cheeses somehow falls flat.

  • Charcuterie Isn't a Crudité A vegetable or two is good, especially if they're palate-cleansing or colorful or just a respite from the other offerings. I mostly use vegetables as "fillers" and "color" but they're not the center attraction.

  • Slice the Meats Thin or Small Small bites!

  • Make Sure That Each Choice "Tastes Good" Paired with Something Else One of my favorites is a doctored pub cheese (see the Semi-Homemade version of Homemade Pub Cheese) paired with fresh apple slices. Plain tangerine sections are boring but a tangerine piece on top of a honey-sweetened cream cheese spread on top of a cracker, wow.

  • Cut Soft Cheeses? We're of differing minds here. For two, I think a soft cheese that needs cutting is very manageable if it's left whole on the board, but for more people maybe not. My husband cuts all the cheeses, all the time. This graphic is very useful for pretty ways to cut whole cheeses (NY Times, no paywall).

  • Consider Temperature Aim for foods that taste good cold or at room temperature. My husband once wrapped mushrooms in bacon, then smoked them several hours ahead of time. Cold Bacon = Not Good.
Charcuterie for Two ♥ Practical tips and ideas for convivial meals for special occasions and celebrations.

Late Summer Sunday Shrimp Boil | Clockwise | Fresh Figs | Smoked Shrimp | Roasted Roma Tomatoes | Two ? Cheeses | Fresh Corn Rounds | Shrimp Boil Mushrooms & Pearl Onions | Shrimp Boil Potatoes | Mini Mozzarella Balls | Shrimp Boil Sausage & Okra

  • Aim for Bite-Size Foods For example, small little tomatoes work really well but if they're big, don't cut them into pieces cuz nobody but nobody is gonna pick up a quarter cherry tomato. If you really want to use larger tomatoes, cut them in half, scoop out the insides and stuff them with something.

  • Aim for Beauty & Utility But Don't Sacrifice Utility for Beauty. Here's an example. Don't grate carrots to serve just to add color. Maybe use grated carrot for a bit of garnish somewhere but not to pick up and eat.

  • Plan for Leftovers We rarely finish the whole platter so I plan ahead for leftovers. Mostly that just means keeping different foods separate from one another: making sure that the meats and cheeses don't co-mingle; that the crackers don't get wet; that the dips aren't left out too long; that the pickles can go back in the jar.

  • All Those Fancy Tomato and Prosciutto "Roses" Oh my. What a humbling experience, the first (and last) time I attempted these. I gave 'em up and never miss 'em.

More Special Meals for Special People & Special Occasions

~ Valentine's ~
A collection of recipes for Valentine's Day ♥
Quick 'n' Easy Shrimp Bisque ♥, part bisque, part chowder, all delicious.

Warm Baked Feta & Tomatoes with Shrimp ♥ TikTok phenomenon worth the hype as an appetizer, casual meal or pasta feast.

Seared Scallops with Garlicky Polenta & Chimichurri ♥ A simple romantic dinner, perfectly cooked scallops bedded in creamy polenta and topped with racy spoonsful of chimichurri.

Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Quick Suppers are Kitchen Parade favorites and feature recipes easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail, you'll find my current address in the FAQs. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, for more scratch cooking recipes using whole, healthful ingredients, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. If you make this recipe, I'd love to know your results! Just leave a comment below.

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