Today, I’m bringing you a holiday dining idea that is totally out of the box! Being that we may be having smaller holiday gatherings this year, you might already be rethinking your regular annual menu that could feed an army. Well, look no further!
Start by throwing away everything that you thought you knew about charcuterie (pronounced “shar-coo-tuh-ree”) boards. They are not just appetizers and snacks served with wine at an evening with friends and family anymore—The new charcuterie board can be an appetizer, snack, side dish, main dish, or even dessert! Today, I’m hoping to inspire you with the basics of a charcuterie board, picking alternative food items, and dressing it up and down for any time of day or themed occasion.
In French tradition, charcuterie literally means the art of preparing and presenting cured meats. As an Italian myself, a traditional charcuterie board is one of my absolute favorite meals because it encompasses all my favorite things: delicious breads, meats, and cheeses. Sprinkle in a few fresh and dried fruits, and something pickled, and I could literally eat that kind of meal for the rest of my life and be satisfied (emotionally if not nutritionally haha).
On holidays, my family usually serves antipasto (basically the Italian version of the French charcuterie), and then we’re often nearly too full for the main course holiday dinner. Every year it gets me thinking, “Why are we going crazy cooking the traditional main course? We all enjoy charcuterie the most… why not just expand upon that?”
I feel the most important aspect of charcuterie is the presentation. This is one of the primary reasons you could serve a charcuterie as a holiday meal: the presentation is supposed to be very Instagrammable. It’s taking everyday foods and presenting them in a way that is impressive, photogenic, and holiday-worthy. Just because the phrase is “charcuterie board” doesn’t mean that you have to serve it on a board. You could… but if you didn’t have a large and traditional wooden board, then you could still wow your guests with a large platter, paper, or a whole table or kitchen island.
Once you’ve selected whether you’re using a board, platter, paper, or the whole table, then you need to figure out placement of everything on that base. You’ll likely need some bowls of varying sizes for the wetter food items. I use all white serviceware and everyday dishes in our household, so I have an abundance of crisp white items that match. You could go with all-white, clear, metallics, mix-and-match, or holiday-themed.
Utensils are important when it comes to a charcuterie board. Though it’s finger food, no one wants sticky fingers by the time they are ready to eat. You may need to include some spoons for the dips, a honey dipper, tongs for fruit, knives to cut cheese, etc. But get creative here! I wouldn’t go out and spend a fortune on utensils. Look around to see what you have in the house first, then maybe supplement with a few add-ins if necessary. The food itself should be finger food, so your guests likely won’t need many regular utensils to eat, just to serve themselves. If you do provide one dining utensil, then it could be a regular fork, cocktail fork, or a toothpick.
Placing the food on your board can seem intimidating, but there is no right or wrong way to do it. Just begin placing the largest items, bowls, or staple foods first, and then fill in around that. Layer and build up, until you fill in the gaps.
Finally, to finish off the topic of presentation, I want to introduce you to personalized dining boards with a wine cup holder. If you wanted to go totally extra and over the top, you could purchase each person their own wooden board instead of offering appetizer or dinner plates to eat from. This is perfect for a party atmosphere where everyone is walking around and mingling. Each guest would receive their own board that they can take home at the end of the night. It’s a practical favor. This also works wonderfully for a holiday party, because it’s a built-in gift! And check out the price… Home Depot sells the gorgeous trays shown below. They are made from a sturdy quality acacia wood in a set of four for only $27.11 ($6.75 per person). What a cheap and unique gift!
Sweet or Savory
While we’re thinking outside the box, let’s consider the fact that though traditional French charcuterie is savory meats, that doesn’t mean that a modern take on this type of dining always needs to include meat. If you don’t eat meat or dairy, or if you have other dietary restrictions, you can still enjoy a scrumptious charcuterie without those ingredients.
Your board doesn’t have to be only sweet or only savory, as people often enjoy a mix of the two. Even the traditional meat and cheese board still includes fruits. My suggestion would be to include both sweet and savory, but to also consider textures. It’s important to entice the senses and include soft, hard, mushy, crunchy, smooth, chewy, and lumpy.
Additionally, who decided charcuterie is for evenings only? Why not breakfast charcuterie, lunch charcuterie, and dessert charcuterie? You could also prepare a charcuterie board themed for a game night or family movie night. The possibilities are truly endless.
What to Include
My absolute favorite thing about a charcuterie board is that it’s a bit of a catch-all, and there is something for everyone. Your guests are bound to be wowed by the variety and assortment available. I usually begin by rummaging through my fridge and pantry to see what I have in the house that can work on my board. It helps to know what time of day you’re serving your board, and for what occasion. For example, if I was preparing a breakfast board, I would definitely be looking for different items compared to a Christmas dinner board. Below are some ideas of boards and the types of foods that you could consider including for each one.
Breakfast – Pastries, muffins, bagels, donuts, croissants, cinnamon rolls, waffles, pancakes, French toast, cheese blintzes, bacon, sausage, smoked salmon, hard-boiled eggs, fresh fruit, yogurt cups, syrup, jam, and whipped cream
Lunch – DIY sandwiches, tacos, deli meat, deviled eggs, quiche, cheese, pickles, olives, fresh fruit, spinach artichoke dip, caponata eggplant dip, hummus, pitta bread, and crackers
Dinner – Steak, shrimp, wings, lamb chops, meatballs, warm dips, grilled vegetables, baked potatoes, couscous, tortellini, rice balls, bread, and crackers
Dessert – S’mores, chocolate and strawberries, chocolate fondue, cookies, hot cocoa, and rice krispies treats
Game/Movie Night – Popcorn, soft pretzels, crunchy pretzels, cookies, crackers, chips, dip, cheese, gummy candy, chocolate candy, sour candy, fresh fruit, fried fruit, and nuts
I would suggest serving everything in finger-food-sized portions.
Let’s use breakfast as our first example: If your waffle maker makes humongous waffles, then cut them down to make waffle sticks. Same for French toast. Guests won’t want to fill up on a whole slice of French toast when there is so much variety on the board, so cut them down to stick-size, and then they can try everything.
Now let’s use dinner as an example: You can absolutely serve steak on a charcuterie, but you’ll need to precut it into bite-sized strips. Lamb chops, wings, and shrimp are a great idea because they are already fairly small cuts of meat. Avoid serving food that’s so large that it requires a fork and knife to eat.
The recommended serving size for a meat and cheese platter is 3 ounces per person as an appetizer and 6 ounces per person as a main course. However, I’d suggest you up the ounces by a few per person when it’s a holiday dinner. My reasoning behind that is that sometimes people are busy on holidays mornings/days and don’t have time during the day to eat, or they hold out in anticipation of all the yummy food that’s about to come, so they may be very hungry by the time they arrive for dinner. It’s best to increase to maybe 8-10 ounces per person of protein. Don’t forget that there is much more on the board than meat and cheese, so no one will leave hungry.
I hope this post today has inspired you to come up with a new offering for the holidays this year. A charcuterie board is extremely fun, a conversation piece, a complete meal full of nutrients and includes loads of variety. It’s time to elevate the appetizers into a proper course of its own.
Happy holidays everyone!