While charcuterie has long been part of the “entertaining with food” conversation, its popularity exploded during the pandemic. University of the Pacific Professor Ken Albala credited charcuterie’s increased popularity to “the rise of the interest in do-it-yourself artisanal craft food,” a statement supported by the subsequent proliferation of how-to books, DIY virtual classes, and board-creation businesses that have recently emerged—and it’s all showing zero signs of slowing down.
As a wine pro experimenting with ideas to create the “perfect” charcuterie boards for my own wine-tasting events, one day, I had a lightbulb moment: since wine and cheese is such a quintessential combo, why not play around with the wine tasting concept known as the “5 S’s” of wine (“See,” “Swirl,” “Sniff,” “Sip,” and “Savor”) and adapt it for charcuterie boards?
With that, I came up with my “5 S’s” for charcuterie: Shape, Savory, Salty, Sweet and Surprise.
While the S’s were an excellent start, I determined that there were elements missing from the sensory equation. After further experimenting, I happily discovered those additional elements could all be encapsulated by the letter “C”: Colorful, Creamy, Crispy, Crunchy and Chunky.
Then *boom* just like that, my “5S + 5C ” formula was born. Curious about mastering the art of charcuterie yet? Good. Time to get “on board!”
Breaking Down The “5 S’s”
Look for soft cheeses already in fun shapes like logs, circular balls, rounds and triangles—such as Brie, goat cheese, taleggio, burrata/mozzarella balls, Roquefort and camembert. Remember that you can also transform square, circular, or rectangular hard cheeses into new shape variations, too, like semi-circles, quarters, triangles, circles, diamonds and rectangles. For hard cheese, look for Comté, Gruyère, Manchego, Fontina, Gouda and Cheddar.
A mixture of beef, pork, poultry and fish/seafood options also ensures great shape variety. You can create shapes by rolling up thinly sliced meats into skinny “cigars” or cut longer, tubular-shaped meats into circular coins or diagonal slices. There are even tutorials for making rose shapes using wine glasses, as well as cone and ribbon shapes out of sliced meats. Thinly sliced bresaola, Genoa salami or soppressata, mortadella, prosciutto (try duck prosciutto to kick things up a notch) and smoked salmon are all excellent for making meat roses (as well as for overall board use!).
Don’t forget the fruit, veggies and garnishes! For this, consider unique food items that naturally come in distinct shapes and/or can easily be manipulated into them, such as starfruit (sliced), quartered artichokes and jicama (cut into square sticks).
Think outside of the box with this “S,” as it’s an opportunity to go beyond meat and cheese. Opt for known umami bites like cherry tomatoes (sliced in half and sprinkled with a little EVOO, salt, and pepper), mushrooms (try stuffed creminis, mushroom pate, or crunchy raw Enokis), seafood, walnuts, pistachios, smoked oysters, asparagus (wrapped in a little prosciutto, perhaps?) and anything truffle.
Salty foods are great for bringing balance to your board because they play well with milder cheeses and sweeter foods, as well as compliment a variety of wines. Look for caviar (or salmon roe), salted crackers, olives (rather than the usual green Spanish Manzanilla, go for Kalamata, buttery Castelvetrano, Cerignola, or Niçoise olives), caperberries, prosciutto, smoked salmon, and salted nuts and seeds (pistachios, pepitas).
While fresh fruits like grapes, raspberries, strawberries and blueberries are often the usual sweet suspects, here’s a chance to mix things up by adding dried apricots, golden raisins, cranberries, honey glazed nuts, fig jam, Membrillo (quince) paste, or dessert cheeses (reputable cheese mongers will have options like lavender-honey goat cheese, dried cranberry-inflected cheddar, and wine/spirits-infused cheese wedges).
This is where you can really get creative and have some extra fun! Think about flavor-infused foods or unusual food items you don’t see every day: truffle mustard and/or truffle honey; delicious and gorgeous, fresh, raw honeycomb with the wax (find it at specialty markets) or perfectly bite-sized, halved soft boiled quail eggs.
Breaking Down The “5 C’s”
While the “S’s” provide the necessary foundation, the “C’s” are the extra considerations that will take your board to the next level.
There’s one acronym to help you nail this element: ROYGBIV. It represents each color in the spectrum of the rainbow, so try to include as many as you can!
For colorful food ideas, look for pink and green-hued watermelon radish slices, juicy and vinegary “Sweetie teardrop” red peppers, sliced golden beets (raw, roasted, or dried), dragon fruit, purple cauliflower or asparagus, rainbow carrots, and blueberries.
This element is all about texture, so think of things that are luscious and spreadable. Hummus, duck liver mousse, pâté, whipped mascarpone (mixed with a little honey perhaps), or thick raw honey on its own.
Crackers, obviously, but make it gourmet: cranberry crisps; black pepper crackers, rosemary crackers, Lavash (flatbread)—bonus points if they have rustic shapes or decorative edges. Skinny breadsticks and toasted baguettes are excellent choices, too.
Almonds (raw or roasted), cashews and pistachios definitely make the cut, but a little creative thinking can steer you towards foods like large, stemmed Caperberries or dried veggies like green beans, okra and snap peas.
Think of foods that you could easily spear with a toothpick—cubed foods work great here! Blue cheese, watermelon, pineapple, marinated chunks of tofu (thoughtful touch for vegan guests!) and ahi tuna.
Other items that fit the chunky vibe: cornichons, cold spinach-artichoke dip and even an elevated pico de gallo (swap out tomatoes for summer-ripe plums—the sweet, fruity twist allows it to pair beautifully with cheese).
Bonus Board Pro-Tips:
- A great guideline is to allot 2-3 ounces each of cheese and meat per person if the charcuterie is just an appetizer. If it’s the main attraction, 4-6 ounces of each works great.
- Attention to detail is everything when curating your board—where and how you position the food to create an artful display.
- Interior designers often tout the power of odd numbers in design, so keep that in mind when designing your board, too! 3 meats + 5 cheeses, 7 meats + 3 cheeses…you get the picture.
- Shape can also connect to the board itself: For example, placing round foods around the perimeter of a round board can be even more aesthetically pleasing.
Look for wines that are light-to-medium bodied, crisp and fruity, have vibrant acidity, and are considered “salt-friendly.”
White wines: Sauvignon Blanc or Albariño; Pinot Grigio or Grüner Veltliner; Brut Sparkling wine cuvees (check out this primer on sparkling wine types), Pinot Grigio, and Gewürztraminer work great as well.
Rosé: Look for pink wines made with Grenache, Pinot Noir, Cinsault or Cabernet Franc grapes, or wines that come from Provence or Spain. Sparkling rosés are a no-brainer, too!
Red wines: Pinot Noir, Gamay, or Cinsault; Syrah or Nebbiolo; Lambrusco (a “di Grasparossa” or “di Sorbara”); GSM (Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre) blends; and Zinfandel.