Looking for an Outstanding, Holiday Appetizer? Create a Charcuterie Board!

Posted on December 12, 2018

by Clare T

With today’s busy schedules, we often choose quick and easy appetizers, like trays of supermarket veggies or chips and dip. If you are like me, this type of snack is sufficient, but not really outstanding. Once, in desperation, I ripped open a gift box of cheese and summer sausage, you know, the one with the little jar of mustard. It was consumed by my guests with appreciation, but served without much fanfare.

Recently, I read about a new gourmet appetizer called “charcuterie,” pronounced “shar-koo-tuh-ree.” Thinking about it a little more, I see that charcuterie is processed meat and cheese, with the distinction of being served on a nice wooden board! I encourage you to do a Google search with the keywords, “charcuterie and Toledo” and you will be surprised to see how many restaurants have charcuterie on their menus. Just so you know, a purist would say that an authentic charcuterie board must be prepared with processed pork products, old world meats like dried ham, sausages, terrines, and pâtés, mortadella, speck and many other mystery meats.

It’s all about appearances!

I truly believe that charcuterie is all about putting a creative spin on what goes on a serving board. For the holidays, I intend to take my charcuterie to a new level. Imagine the cheese board as a blank canvas, one to be adorned with a contrasting arrangement of meats, cheeses, spreads and breads. I am the artist who may roll some meat slices, stack the cheeses into stair steps and accent the creation with tidbits of color and texture. My creation will require a few small dipping bowls, or even some hollowed out green peppers, filled with tasty olives, compotes or spreads. Then, I will add some small plates for guests, some craft beers and wine. Perhaps I will realize an impressive, almost gourmet appetizer? I am the artistic director, one who will build a food masterpiece on a piece of wood.

It’s a culinary masterpiece that won’t break your budget

In keeping with frugality and practicality, I think a person should use whatever meats they can afford, things like summer sausage, hard salami, kielbasa or chorizo. Canadian bacon and prosciutto are pricy choices. Friends from east Toledo will steer you to a local market that makes a favorite Hungarian sausage known as kolbász. Another non-traditional charcuterie could include something like smoked turkey, pastrami or smoked salmon. Venison smoked sausage is a nice choice too if you have access to it. Some folks may skip the meat and go Vegan.

Table with fruit, vegetables and appetizers - photo from PXhere

One money saving strategy is to choose discounted cheese, selecting the one in the gourmet section with the marked down Whoo-Hoo sticker on it. Complex and aromatic, aged cheese does not go bad. Cheese is meant to age. So, a sell by label should not bring on its’ demise. Buy the good stuff before the cheese is forced to walk the green mile. Then, to balance the creation with color and taste, a second bargain cheese, like cheddar, is always on sale in the dairy aisle.

wooden board with a variety of cheeses - photo from PXhere

The meat might possibly be the most expensive component. Again, look for what’s on sale. As a small plate meal or appetizer, four people could easily manage less than a pound of meat. Remember that the meat is rich and your guests will also enjoy cheese, bread and possibly dips. Don’t forget, a crusty bread, cracker or “trencher” is an essential structure for holding these goodies. Spinach or artichoke dips and hummus are good choices to fill out the occasion. Some folks have sophisticated skills at a gourmet level, while others appreciate the simplicity of being a novice. “Cook’s Illustrated” has a fantastic article on how to make the Ultimate Cheeseboard. For the novice chef, I recommend the resources below. There’s also a great article in the October 2018 issue of “Food & Wine,” which offers a great Charcuterie Lover’s Pairing Guide. This magazine and article can be accessed via Flipster, which is one of the eMedia subscription services available to Library cardholders.

Practical, Holiday Delights for the Novice Chef

My favorite cookbooks contain a variety of practical, easy-to-prepare dips, spreads, nibbles and bites for holiday entertaining.

Taste of Home Christmas : 465 recipes for a merry holiday!
Martha Stewart's appetizers : 200 recipes for dips, spreads, nibbles, bites, snacks, starters, small plates from the editors of Martha Stewart Living
Bobby Flay fit : 200 recipes for a healthy lifestyle / Bobby Flay with Stephanie Banyas and Sally Jackson
Platters and Boards Beautiful, Casual Spreads for Every Occasion by Shelly Westerhausen
Dips & Spreads : 46 Gorgeous and Good-for-You Recipes by Dawn Yanagihara
Related Toledo Library blog post:

5 Party Ideas for Mixing Drinks

Vegan Holiday Celebrations

Vegans may prefer a separate board where little lettuce leaves become wraps and cucumber discs dip into delectable spreads. I’ve noticed that some charcuterie boards appear to have the addition of fancy accents. Dijon mustard, Kalamata olives, cranberry compote, raspberry jam, tiny dill pickles, and pepperoncini are great choices for savory, sweet or tangy options. Serve a bit of this on your fancy board and suddenly a few simple ingredients have morphed into a gourmet treat!

Vegan Cookbooks

Quick and easy vegan celebrations : over 150 great-tasting recipes plus festive menus for vegantastic holidays and get-togethers all through the year by Alicia C. Simpson
Vegan holiday kitchen : more than 200 delicious, festive recipes for special occasions / Nava Atlas ; photographs by Susan Voisin
Blissful bites : vegan meals that nourish mind, body, and planet / Christy Morgan
Raw, vegan, not gross : all vegan and mostly raw recipes for people who love to eat / Laura Miller ; photography by David Loftus
Vegan Finger Foods : More Than 100 Crowd-Pleasing Recipes for Bite-Size Eats Everyone Will Love by Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes
Related Toledo Library blog post:

Celebrating the Holidays Vegan Style

Palatable resources

The Di Lusso Deli Company offers an excellent online guide, Charcuterie Board 101, for selecting, layering and combining flavors in a traditional manner. Cookbooks which feature charcuterie are fascinating. I have respect for those charcutier or “pork butchers” who are passionate about their craft. Do you have a passion to follow step-by-step instructions for making brined, smoked, cured, skewered, braised, rolled, tied, or stuffed meats at home? Our Library has advanced resources for experienced cooks who can delve into making delicious things from scratch, like fresh cheeses, liver pâté and herbed butters.

Advanced charcuterie resources

The new charcuterie cookbook : exceptional cured meats to make and serve at home / Jamie Bissonnette, chef/owner of Toro NYC, Coppa and Toro Boston, winner of the James Beard Best Chef: Northeast award
From scratch : an introduction to French breads, cheeses, preserves, pickles, charcuterie, condiments, yogurts, sweets, and more / Laurence Laurendon, Gilles Laurendon, Catherine Quevremont, Cathy Ytak
Charcuterie : the craft of salting, smoking, and curing / Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn
In the charcuterie : the Fatted Calf's guide to making sausage, salumi, pates, roasts, confits, and other meaty goods / Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller
Essential Pepin : more than 700 all-time favorites from my life in food / Jacques Pépin

Creating new holiday traditions

Share your charcuterie as a new holiday tradition with your children. Teach kids how to arrange cheeses in Domino layers or show the kids how to stack veggies and fruits on bamboo skewers. Teach the little ones simple kitchen basics. Layering, arranging and stacking food pieces are skills which are ideally suited for little hands. The Library resources listed below all have at least one great dip or finger food for kids to create.

Tidbits for Kids

Look I'm a Cook by DK Publishing
Barbara Beery's pink princess party cookbook
The Children's Jewish Holiday Kitchen 70 Fun Recipes for You and Your Kids, from the Author of Jewish Cooking in America by Joan Nathan
Eat fresh food : awesome recipes for teen chefs / Rozanne Gold and her all-star team
Betty Crocker Kids Cook
Related Toledo Library blog post:

Kids in the Kitchen

Treasure the moment

This holiday season, I’ll treasure my time with family in the kitchen. I am hoping that our collaborative charcuterie board will become a tempting showpiece, served with pride and artistic satisfaction. Even if my holiday appetizers don’t meet all expectations, I am going to sell it as if I just beat Bobby Flay! A little enthusiasm goes a long way. Remember, it’s all about appearances.

Holiday food traditions and other inspirational stories

Apron anxiety : my messy affairs in and out of the kitchen / Alyssa Shelasky
Wreck the halls : cake wrecks gets "festive" by Jen Yates
Christmas Days : 12 stories and 12 feasts for 12 days / Jeanette Winterson
Festivus The Holiday for the Rest of Us by Allen Salkin, forward by Jerry Stiller
Food : a love story / Jim Gaffigan
Related Toledo Library blog post:

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