Here's your guide to what charcuterie is and how to use it.

Advertisement
Charcuterie board with meats, cheese, olives, and mustard
Credit: Meredith

What is charcuterie? If you're not already familiar with it, the term "charcuterie" may sound fancy and inaccessible. But if you're a fan of hot dogs or pepperoni, you're a fan of charcuterie.

What Is Charcuterie, Exactly?

From the French chair for meat and cuit for cooked, charcuterie is simply the art of preserving meat. Charcuterie (pronounced shar-KOO-tuh-ree) has been around for centuries and, much like cheese, became popular because it kept food around for longer — the heart of charcuterie is frugality.

Charcuterie Boards vs. Cheese Boards

By now, you might be scratching your head thinking, "What about all the 'charcuterie' boards we see on Instagram that don't actually feature any meat?" It all comes down to semantics.

A charcuterie board is a selection of meats surrounded by foods that complement those meats, most commonly fruits, nuts, crackers, and dips. A cheese board is a collection of cheeses surrounded by foods that complement those cheeses. You may find charcuterie on a cheese board and cheese on a charcuterie board, but they are technically not the same. However, the terms have become largely interchangeable.

Ready to dig in? We'll take a look at the types of charcuterie and then tackle how to build the perfect charcuterie board.

Types of Charcuterie

Whole Muscle

Whole muscle meats include Prosciutto, Jamon Iberico, Italian-style speck, and Jamon Serrano. In this method of preservation, salt, air, and time come together to cure whole cuts of meat (usually the leg), making it safe to eat without going through the cooking process. Whole muscle meats are distinguishable by ribbons of fat and muscle, rather than more evenly distributed chunks, like one would find in a dry-cured salami where the meat is ground before curing.

Grilled Prosciutto-Wrapped Peaches with Burrata and Basil
Grilled Prosciutto-Wrapped Peaches with Burrata and Basil | Photo by Chef John
| Credit: Chef John

Dry Cured

Soppressata, finocchiona, and pepperoni (called salame picante in Italian) all fall under the dry-cured category. Meat, usually pork, is ground, salted, and spiced, then stuffed into either natural or synthetic casings before being allowed to cure. In the case of many European dry cured meats with long histories, the seasonings added are just what grew naturally in the region that the salami hails from.

Hard Salami Charcuterie Platter
Photo by Meredith

Encased Sausage

This category includes hot dogs, andouille, and bratwurst and, unlike other categories of charcuterie, must be cooked before being consumed. Traditionally, sausage makers would make a mix of the picked-over meat, including organs, salt and season it, then stuff the mixture into the cleaned intestinal lining. While "learning how the sausage is made" may not be the most appetizing to the modern eater, this style of meat preservation is nose-to-tail eating at its most practical—no part of the animal is wasted.

hot dogs
Photo by Douglas Sacha / Getty Images

Cooked

Prosciutto cotto (cotto is Italian for "cooked), ham, roast turkey, pastrami, and some of our other favorite deli meats are part of the cooked meats family. Often, these meats will be brined before being cooked. And, while these aren't typically the meats we lay out on fancy charcuterie boards, they're perfect for a sandwich.

Real N'awlins Muffuletta
Real N'awlins Muffuletta | Photo by Allrecipes
| Credit: Allrecipes

Pâté

While foie gras mousse is likely the best-known pâté product, pâté includes a range of cooked meat products, and sometimes, yes, includes liver. Some pâtés are pulverized into a mousse and some are more coarsely ground, like a free-form sausage. Pâté de Campagne is a popular pâté on the more coarsely ground side.

Chef John's Pate de Campagne
Pâté de Campagne | Photo by Chef John

How to Make Your Own Charcuterie Board

Much like a successful cheese board, the best charcuterie boards feature different flavors, textures, and well-thought-out condiment pairings.

For example, if you're featuring a dry cured salami like saucisson sec, offer your guests a different texture and flavor by serving slices of a whole muscle meat or a chicken liver mousse as well. Charcuterie loves acidity — mustard and pickled veggies pair well with just about any charcuterie you can think of.

And, while a cheese board isn't quite the same thing as a charcuterie board, there's nothing wrong with a bit of cheese on a charcuterie board! A rustic cheddar can pair beautifully with a Calabrian chili salami and Jamon Serrano tastes great with Manchego. If you're stumped on the cheeses to serve with your charcuterie, try to see where the salami is originally from. The recipe for Finocchiona hails from Tuscany, so if that's the salami you're serving, look for a cheese from Tuscany like Pecorino Toscano. The same goes with wine pairings — Chianti is from Tuscany and will do quite nicely with the Finocchiona.

Top-Rated Recipes for Your Charcuterie Board:

Related: