Charcuterie boards. I bet you have your favorite places to order them. Same with cheese plates. Just ask your friends; it will prompt enough discussion to last far longer than you ever thought possible. But, you don’t have to go out to experience the wonders of the charcuterie board … instead of planning a big dinner, have a few friends over and just open up some wine and serve a really large charcuterie board and call it a night. There’s more than enough food to satisfy, and it’s fun to just crowd around the tray. Eating like this says, “Our main purpose here is to talk and connect” in a way that nothing else does.

Of course, you should also consider this as the perfect appetizer for a large crowd. It’s easy, visually stunning, and everyone can find SOMETHING they like on a charcuterie board, right?! It’s all about balance, accoutrements and satisfying a variety of palates.

For meats, prosciutto is always the crowd favorite, so double up there. Consider serving a dried, hard meat as well, like a salami. Paté is another great addition. Think textures and flavors, and have everything from soft and mild to hard and bold.

This same thought can be used when making your cheese plate. But one word of caution: in a day and age of so many great cheeses, consider having something familiar to your guests, like cheddar, that satisfies the less adventurous and makes them feel at home. Having something familiar also helps ease them into trying something they may not know. Also, blue cheese is either loved or hated, so perhaps have it in its own corner if you include it. I, for one, LOVE anything and everything blue cheese. The stinkier the better! But, for instance, my dad won’t eat from a plate that has blue cheese on it, and he’s not alone. With enough of a barrier, though (think of your accoutrements), separating the blue cheese from other items, he’d be okay.

With Kroger having their new Murray’s Cheese Shop section (yes, the same Murray’s Cheese Shop found in NYC) dedicated to gourmet cheese, delicious meat and specialty foods, the entire charcuterie board below was assembled with one quick stop at my local Kroger. I picked up the olives, the Blackberry Farm jam, the smoked meats and gourmet cheese all at Kroger. Their selection of crackers and bread made filling up the hand-held basket quick and easy, too. Pick up some wine and your 15-minute stop at Kroger and 15-minute set up at home means getting ready for company has never been simpler.

Here’s what I recently picked up with an explanation of how I arranged the items and why:

Have you considered having a few people over and just serving wine and a charcuterie board?

In the end, your charcuterie platter and cheese tray should be balanced with flavor and texture as well as be beautiful to look at. Have separate spoons, knives and forks for each item. It’s also nice to get hard cheese started by slicing off several pieces as this in an invitation to start eating.

the perfect cheese plate and charcuterie board

I’m a firm believer that cheese needs fruit. And, the acidity of cornichons (sour French pickles) or pickled vegetables are perfect … always! On this cheese plate, for flavor and visual balance, I included seedless green and red grapes as well as slices of Granny Smith apples. Also included are pickled okra and cornichons, True Bee honey, Blackberry Farm smoked onion jam, crispy crackers and freshly cooked French bread (Kroger makes those half-baked breads that you finish off at home, which is what I used). For the cheese, I included a mild cheddar, a goat cheese gouda and fromager d’affinois (like brie, but creamier and completely addictive!). I always try to include a couple of cheeses made from something other than cow’s milk (think goat’s milk, sheep’s milk or vegan options made with nut milks). Note: most cheeses come in a large portion. Consider cutting them into halves and only serving half of each one. Remember, most people will eat, with three choices of meat and five choices of cheese, about 6 ounces of meat and 6 ounces of cheese … and sometimes less as they are also filling up on grapes, nuts, olives and bread. (SB Tip: If serving as an appetizer, think 2 or 3 ounces per person.)

the perfect charcuterie board

Here, I placed all the meats on a platter with a couple more cheeses. You’ll also note Marcona almonds, Castelvetrano olives (the bright green ones), blue cheese-stuffed green olives, green grapes and grainy mustard. Not only are there utensils for each, but there is also a cup of toothpicks. The mustard and toothpicks are both contained in black shot glasses, so think about how your dishes and glassware you already have on hand can be reimagined.

Bread: I baked some Pillsbury pizza crust out of the can and sliced it, twisting it to make breadsticks. I also have gluten-free crackers made by Valley Produce that everyone seems to love.

Meats: I have three meat options, which include two packages of prosciutto, dried, hard salami and soft salami. And, consider paté

Cheeses: I used a Pecorino Romano made with sheep’s milk and ubriaco al cabernet. If I hadn’t been worried about blue cheese, I would have substituted the cabernet for a blue cheese, especially how it’s on the opposite side of the platter shown above! So, consider blue cheese!

Items to make your charcuterie board amazing.

Here is photo showcasing everything I bought to go with the meats, cheeses, breads and fruit.

Really good goat cheese gouda.

See how there is a goat illustration on the cheese? Kroger makes it easy to identify which cheeses come from cows, sheep and goats.

So, how much did this all cost? All combined, including all the jarred items featured above, was pre-tax $109.98. BUT, if I allow for the fact that I only used one third, at a minimum, of each of the above jars, that brings the cost down to $72.95. So, add a couple bottles of wine, and your entire gathering is about $100. Plus, there is no cooking time … except the breads, which are totally worth the time. Having fresh, warm bread is a game changer.

The only thing I’d add for this informal gathering is a bar of dark chocolate to break and pass around. Perfection!

As the holidays edge closer, make sure to check out all of our StyleBlueprint recipes!