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

By Christine Clark
April 27, 2020

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.

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

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 | Photo by Chef John
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.

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.

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 | Photo by 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.

Pâté de Campagne | Photo by Chef John

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.

More Top-Rated Recipes for Your Charcuterie Board: