Charcuterie boards are the perfect menu option for the holiday season, and any other time of year! Here's my strategy for building an easy and impressive holiday board for gatherings with friends, family and even date night for two. Bonus: this beautiful board is pescatarian-friendly and can be customized to your favorite nibbles!
Building a festive holiday party charcuterie board is a critical life skill. Why we aren't learning this as part of our general education credits at University is beyond me.
So I am here to bridge the gap for this education failure by teaching my simple strategies for building a festive Christmas charcuterie board...or Hanukkah board...or New Year's board...or football Saturday board...or it's-December-78th-and-I-can't-even-think-about-cooking-anything-else board.
What is charcuterie?
If you took two semesters of French in high school, you probably already know that "charcuterie" is a French word for the culinary art of preparing meat products such as pork terrines, salami and sausages, bacon and ham.
In our modern kitchens, charcuterie is shorthand for building a large board full of a little piles of delicious cheeses, meats, breads, pickle-y nibbles and sweet bites. Beyond meats and cheeses, you can create your own boards with different themes, like a selection of finger foods for game day or dessert boards that showcase your best holiday sweets.
What is the best board for presenting my holiday favorites?
A large wooden cutting board is the the most common way to present a charcuterie. But that is not your only option for building a gorgeous charcuterie board.
I've loved making a small cracker, olive and cheese platter on a slate board for an at-home happy hour. Ceramic pottery can also be a great display option, as long as it is food safe.
For the reluctant entertainer without a cabinet full of plates and crockery, you can build a truly great spread by laying down parchment paper over a sideboard table, giving your guests a full square acre of grazing board opportunities.
Step-by-step instructions for choosing your holiday party charcuterie board menu items:
Charcuterie boards, like any great party menu, present endless possibilities. When I'm planning a grazing board for my Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year's celebrations, I consider three major factors:
What are their culinary preferences and what level of adventure do they bring to their food choices? Since charcuterie boards present everyone with a choose-your-own-adventure dining experience, we want to create a spread that meets your guests where they are, and introduces a new flavor or concept without overwhelming them.
What is sweet and juicy and fresh at the market? What seasonal flavors spark nostalgia and joy? For holiday themed boards, I want to evoke memories of the season, so I think about adding pumpkin jam or cranberry sauce to the goat cheese and serving pistachio cookies with cranberries and orange as a sweet bite.
Is this charcuterie spread the main event or the warm-up act? This question will drive the size and complexity of your board.
How to Make a Holiday Charcuterie Board For Seafood Lovers: Board Ideas and Menu Options
Meat: Traditional charcuterie boards offer any number of cured, smoked and shaved meats. For pescatarians, the options are equally broad. If you've watched the salami roses being made in a wine glass, you'll be thrilled to know that smoked salmon roses are equally gorgeous and twice as tasty. Just lay out your slices of cold smoked salmon or lox on a cutting board. Slice the lox lengthwise, so the bottom piece is fairly even, and the top piece will be a smaller oval shape. Then start rolling each strip of salmon, building a spiral of smoky deliciousness.
Once your smoked salmon rose is large enough to stand on the board, wrap the last few pieces and spread the "petals" of the rose to show the layers of salmon. I like to display the rose in a small cup that holds the shape, then have toothpicks or a cocktail fork nearby so your guests can easily serve themselves from the smoked salmon rose.
Back to your protein options on the charcuterie board! Smoked whitefish is another great option. Cured tuna ham is a fun alternative if you have a Spanish market in your city that sells the product. I love a smoky tuna dip as a dip-able, spreadable seafood option. Overall, I recommend choosing 2-3 meat or fish options for your board.
Cheese: I'll admit that I over-stock the cheese in my house, and on my charcuterie boards. It's just the honorable thing to do. With seafood, I like to offer a selection that includes a soft herb cheese like Boursin, a sharp cheese like parmesan, a goat cheese with a sweet topping, and an elevated classic like gouda with red peppers cut into cubes. Blue cheese, sharp cheddar, fresh mozzarella and ricotta salata are all great options. When making your selections, think about the different flavors and textures you're offering. Soft and creamy Boursin. Tangy goat paired with a sweet jam. Sharp and crumbly parmesan. Present a good variety to meet the moment on every corner of your board.
Crackers & Bread: I want to offer at least two carb-tastic options on my board. One of them really must be thin sliced baguette grilled in butter or olive oil. From there, let the overall menu drive the selection. Seedy crackers, crispy breadsticks, classic buttery crackers and even warm pita wedges all make sense. Choose what complements your cheeses and meat or fish selections.
Pickled & Briny: One of my favorite food categories on the planet...because this is where pickles and olives live. Marinated green olives with pistachios (the topping from this grouper recipe) is a staple in my house and on my charcuterie boards. But laying out small bowls of kalamata olives or scattering adorable cornichons also add the perfect balancing tang to the richness of your meats, fish and cheeses on the board.
Sweet Thangs: For this category, I think about fresh fruit like red grapes, wedges of tangerines, green grapes or any berries in season. I'm also a big fan of dried fruit like cranberries, cherries and apricots. But the sweet category can includes spreads like jam, cranberry sauce or a fancy honey. Sometimes I present them in small bowls, sometimes I serve them over goat cheese or brie. Finally, a simple cookie like pistachio shortbread or dark chocolate squares are a lovely touch on a charcuterie board.
Crunchy & Fresh: Toasted walnuts, cashews, almonds or hazelnuts are a great way to add a toasty crunch to your holiday parties. And most nuts are delicious with any type of cheese, so you're creating love connections on every corner of the board. But we can't forget our crispy and fresh partners - the fresh veggies. Radishes, cherry tomatoes, mini-cucumbers and snap peas add satisfying crunch, nutrients, and a low carb dipper for your Christmas parties.
Board Decor: Once all of our major board ingredients are presented, we want to fill in the gaps and create eye appeal with (mostly) edible decor. Fresh herbs like dill, fresh basil and sprigs of rosemary or laurel leaves add beautiful lushness around the meat and cheese board. If your board is seafood-focused, be sure to present it with wedges of lemon to add bright freshness.
How to Make a Holiday Charcuterie Board For Seafood Lovers: Assembling your board!
I like to set the four corners and the centerpiece of my board first. Since my board is seafood-focused, I use two salmon roses as one corner anchor (keeping them on a corner makes it easier for your guests to serve themselves) and smoky tuna dip on the opposite corner. Marinated olives with pistachios hold down the third corner opposite a round of goat cheese in the fourth (a goat cheese log works, too!) My centerpiece is always cheese, because...obviously. Today I used a lovely aged wedge of parmesan. I will crumble a bit of the wedge into bite-sized chunks before my guests arrive, and leave the cheese knife on the table.
Now I move in a layer, adding supporting pieces. My soft herb cheese sits next to my salmon roses, since they are flavor BFFs. Then I add squares of a pepper gouda, cured tuna ham and a snaking line of grilled baguettes that wrap around the tuna dip.
On to pickle-y and fresh! Cornichons are scattered near the salmon and soft herb cheese. Then fresh radish halves, and deeply toasted walnuts. Seedy breadsticks in a jar add height and dimension to the board. The round of goat cheese is topped with pumpkin jam and a few toasted walnuts. Then we add washed red grapes, gorgeous wedges of juicy tangerines around the goat cheese, and lemon wedges around the smoked salmon roses.
Finally, we garnish the board with rosemary sprigs and fresh laurel (bay leaves). Then I use a cheese knife to crumble some bites off the parmesan wedge.
Ready to party!
What are your favorite snacks to include on a holiday charcuterie board? Let me know in the comments below!
This recipe post may contain affiliate links to products we know and love.