Nothing says sumptuous abundance like a French charcuterie board. Originating from the time when Old France was known as Gaul, charcuterie (pronounced “shar-ku-trie”), it comes from the French word chair (“flesh”) and cuit (“cooked”).
Today the charcuterie board is a staple of the casual party, otherwise known as an apéro dinatoire in France.
A large platter piled high with a variety of cured meats, cheeses, bread and accompaniments so that guests can pick at what they feel like nibbling, while the host easily relaxes with a splendid glass of wine, without the need the cook. What more could you ask for??
So rather than putting together a bunch of random stuff, let’s have a look at how to become the host with the most!
Putting together a charcuterie board
1. Picking a variety of meats
There are several types of meats that you can pick for your charcuterie. All the meats in a charcuterie platter are usually pre-cooked, salted or smoked.
|Types of meats||Description and Examples|
|Jambon blanc ou cuits||Cooked hams, which are the most typical types of ham. |
Eg: used in children’s ham sandwiches.
|Jambon cru||Salt-cured hams for less than 4 months. |
Eg: Ham from Bayonne, de Parme (prosciutto in italien), d’Auvergne, Serrano
|Jambon sec||Salt-cured hams for more than 4 months|
Eg: Ham from Ardennes, Ardeche, Corsica
|Jambon fumé||Salt-cured hams that are then smoked.|
Most jambon blancs and jambon cru also come in a smoked version.
Eg: Rosette, chorizo, saucisson de Lyon, saucisson d’Arles
So with this many choices, how do you pick? Most charcuterie boards focus on varieties of jambon cru and jambon fumé, and then add one saucisson, jambon sec or jambon blanc to add a bit of variety.
2. Picking the spreadables
A French charcuterie board will usually include a tartine (spreadable). Made of a variety of ground meats and organ meats, patés, terrines, and rillettes are usually soft and spread across the bread.
|Types of meats||Description and Examples|
|Pâtés||Paste made of ground meats and organ meats, usually containing a portion of chicken, goose, or duck liver, along with herbs, and spices.|
Eg: Pâté de foie gras, paté de canard (duck), paté de poulet (chicken). Vegetarian patés are also available.
|Terrines||Similar to a paté but which has been cooked in an oven, with vegetables, spices, etc. Often wrapped in a pastry.|
Eg: Terrine de campagne, terrine de canard, terrine de foie gras
|Rillettes||Meat shredded then slow-cooked and preserved in fat.|
Eg: Duck, pork or goose rillettes. New varieties of crab and seafood rillettes are also available.
Note: Foie gras by itself is not a paté or a terrine. For one thing, it is more expensive than a paté de foie gras. Patés and terrines that contain a portion of foie gras are called paté de foie gras or terrine de foie gras, so check the label to see what you are purchasing.
If you have guests who have dietary restrictions or are queasy at the thought of eating organ meats, you may have to skip getting any meat patés, terrines or rillettes. (They are however delicious, so maybe get one?)
3. Check for quality labelling
Quality cured hams, patés and other charcuterie products are protected by French designations as well as international trade agreements.
You can find what items are of finer quality by looking for the following initials on the label:
- IGP – Indication géographique protégée
- AOP – Appellation d’origine protégée
- AB – Certified agriculture bio, European version
- Label Rouge – Red label
4. Types of cheeses
Once you have your meats, it is time to choose the cheeses. If you’ve read my article on a how to compose a cheese board, you may have seen that France has over 1600 types of cheeses.
So to narrow down the selection, I recommend picking a minimum of 3 types from the following:
|Type of Cheese||Examples|
|soft cheese||Camembert, Brie, Reblochon, Vieux Boulogne|
|hard cheese||Comté, Etorki, Gruyère, Mimolette, Beaufort|
|goat cheese||Tomme de chèvre, Sainte-Maure, Crottin de Chavignol, Valençay|
|blue cheese||Roquefort, Bleu d’Auvergne|
When picking cheeses, stay away from the mass-produced industrial cheeses and look for artisanal labels like:
- AOC – Appellations d’origine contrôlée
- AOP – Appellations d’origine protégée
You can read more about different types of French cheeses here.
☞ READ MORE: Do you know how to cut the cheese?
5. Picking the sweet
With the heavy meats and cheeses, you will need a palate cleanser for your guests as nibble on as well. A range of fresh and dried fruits as well as jams on a small tray, will add a pop of color and taste great with your platter:
- sliced apples
- blue berries
- fig jam
- cherry tomatoes
6. Picking the salty
Just as you need something sweet, you also need something salty or tangy:
- salted nuts (peanuts, cashews, almonds)
- jalapeno chilis
You can also add a separate crudités veggie platter with your charcuterie, to give your guests even more choice.
7. Picking the accents
For that added touch of oomph, you can also add a few accents to raise your charcuterie platter up a notch.
Add a small condiment dish with several varieties to give your guests plenty of choice.
8. Picking the breads
A large copious charcuterie platter means that you need to have some bread. And that means baguettes.
To vary the flavors, get a minimum of 2 types of bread such as sourdough bread, rye bread, multigrain bread, or any other type of bread with a little bit of crust. You can also try a few a focaccia or ciabatta type breads (which I know they are Italian, but the more the merrier!)
9. Adding color and shapes
Alternate colors on your charcuterie board such as reds (fig jam and cherry tomatoes), greens (olives, grapes, and apple slices) and yellow with cheeses. You can also add a few sprigs of arugula or coriander to add some leafy texture to your board.
And have fun! A bit of creativity and mix of ingredients tossed together for that French “je ne sais quoi” is just what your charcuterie platter needs.
How much meat, cheese, and bread per person?
Generally, in order to be generous, you should average about 1 packet of charcuterie hams for 3-4 people, and the same for one packet of cheese. As well, you should count 1/3 baguette per person or loaf of bread.
So if you have 10 people at your party, you should have at least 4 types of hams, 4 types of cheeses and 3 baguettes. However, this assumes that you will be serving a few other appetizers and finger foods at your party.
If you are not having other appetizers, I would recommend that you increase that proportion to 1 packet of charcuterie hams for 2-3 people, and the same for one packet of cheese. As well, you should count 1/2 baguette per person or loaf of bread.
If in doubt, round up on portion sizes and keep the extra in the fridge so that you can bring it out if needed.
What drinks should you serve with it?
There are many wines that go well with a charcuterie plate. You can create a theme by sticking to wines from the same region as the meats and cheeses you have selected.
- Red wines: Alsace Pinot, Beaujolais Rouge, Bordeaux, Brouilly, Chinon
- White wines: Alsace Pinot Blanc, Reisling, or Bourgogne
☞ READ MORE: Easy Guide to the French Wines
How to make a French Charcuterie Board
Cured hams (pick at least 4)
- Jambon cru ham from bayonne, de parme, prosciutto, d’auvergne, serrano
- Jambon sec ham from ardennes, ardèche, corsica
- Jambon fumé smoked hams
- Saucisson rosette, chorizo, saucisson de lyon, saucisson d’arles
- Jambon blanc cooked hams
Cheeses (pick at least 4)
- 1 soft cheese camembert, brie, reblochon, vieux boulogne, époisses de bourgogne
- 1 hard cheese comté, etorki, gruyère, mimolette, beaufort
- 1 goat cheese tomme de chèvre, sainte-maure, crottin de chavignol, valençay
- 1 blue cheese roquefort, bleu d’auvergne
Bread (pick at least 4 loaves)
- Sliced sourdough bread
- Sliced rye bread
- Sliced multi-grain bread
Sweet (pick any 4)
- Apple slices
- Small serving cup of fig jam
- Cherry tomatoes
Salty (Pick any 3)
- Nuts peanuts, almonds, or pistachios
Accents (Pick at least 1)
- Salted butter
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Dijon fine mustard
- Sprigs of arugula or coriander
- Remove everything from the fridge and the plastic wrapping about 15 minutes before serving.
- Place your hams and cheeses around the platter.
- Place your sweet and salty items in the open spaces.
- Serve with wine.
If you enjoyed that, check out how to prepare an accompanying crudités platter as well, for your party. Bon appétit and à bientôt !