Charcuterie boards are excellent for entertaining during the summer, but they have a reputation for costing an arm and a leg. If you make one at home, however, you have a lot of options for substituting charcuterie staples with more affordable options that can be just as tasty.
The most important element of charcuterie is the variety of texture and flavor. More expensive ingredients will typically yield more impressive flavor overall, but unless you are entertaining a group of gastronomists, you can create a wonderful palette of flavor with affordable ingredients by knowing how to choose and combine them.
The basic categories of charcuterie include cheese, meat, crunchy bread and crackers, something pickled and salty and a few sweet and fruity items.
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the endless variety of cheeses and their wide range of price points. If you’re new to exploring cheese outside of the packaged and sliced variety, focus on choosing a variety of textures, and overtime you can learn which types you like best. Here are just a few common varieties of each texture.
Soft and semi-soft cheese is great for spreading on crackers. In this category you will find slightly sweet ricotta, earthy and tart soft goat cheeses, salty and crumbly feta, mild and sweet cream cheese, buttery and fruity brie, and fresh, slightly salty mozzarella.
In the semi-firm category you’ll find aromatic and creamy gouda, nutty and sweet provolone, subtly sweet havarti and mild Muenster.
Hard cheeses are usually aged longer, resulting in stronger flavors. This includes the sharp and earthy cheddar, creamy and salty gruyère, sharp and gritty parmigiano-reggiano and aromatic and intensely salty pecorino romano.
Moving on to meat, keep it affordable by mixing a few higher-end cured meats with some quality deli meats, ideally freshly sliced from the deli counter. Common cured meats include prosciutto, salami, chorizo and sopressata. Pair a few of those with some mortadella or nice ham, or summer sausage to fill out your board without splurging too much.
For crackers and bread, you can spend as much as you want, but one of the cheapest options is to buy or make a baguette, slice it into rounds and toast in the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Once toasted, drizzle with olive oil and for extra flavor, rub a halved clove of garlic on the surface.
Nuts are another great way to incorporate some more crunch into the board. Again, you can choose how much you want to spend. Pistachios will be on the higher end, or roasted salted peanuts can work as a cheaper option.
When it comes to the salty, crunchy, pickled portion of the board, cornichons are a popular but expensive choice. To avoid the extra cost, opt for quick pickling a red onion at home. This provides a brilliant magenta color and a sweet, tangy flavor to the board.
To make them, thinly slice a red onion or two and place into a large container made of anything but metal. In a saucepan, bring 2 cups of white vinegar, 1 cup of water and 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil over medium heat. Once it starts to boil, immediately remove from the heat and pour over the sliced onion. It is ready to use as soon as it cools.
Finally, incorporate some sweetness. Grapes are a classic option, but Granny Smith apples are a cheaper alternative. Jams and honeys also make a great accompaniment, especially with salty cheese.
With that, you’re set to make a charcuterie board that can impress without the huge price tag.
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