Charcuterie boards are all the rage today. They can make a beautiful centerpiece on your buffet or a great appetizer. Charcuterie boards are made with high end meats, cheeses, smoked fish or even vegetables. Usually all the items are served cold. Chanie Apfelbaum the amazing blogger at Busy in Brooklyn makes some beautiful ones. You should definitely check some of them out:
I recently was put in charge of the food for a fundraiser for my synagogue. One of the other committee members had seen some of Chanie’s boards and had asked if I could do something similar for the event. I had done some small charcuterie boards before at home, but this was first time I had done one this large. Charcuterie boards can be daunting at first, but all you need to remember is they are really just high end deli trays. In my past life I did plenty of catering and cold cut trays for large crowds are something I have a lot of experience with. With that persepctive, it was simply a matter of taking it up a notch.
That being said, since this was for a fundraiser, I needed to be budget conscious. If you are not careful you can easily spend hundreds of dollars on a small board. I ended up doing a board with roughly 50 pounds of meat for a little less than $600. This was plenty for our crowd of 100, along with the hot hors devours, and 2 soups we served. We probably could have fed 150 easily.
I’ll break down the whole process and costs:
You can buy some magnificent boards made out of all sorts of fancy materials. Being on a budget I decided to make my board myself. I started with a 1’X4′ piece of scrap ply wood that I got for free from Home Depot. Make sure whatever wood you use, is untreated. You don’t want to use anything treated with chemicals in a food application. I sanded down the sharp edges, charred both the top and bottom surfaces with a torch for some aesthetic interest. I then treated it with mineral oil to provide a protective finish. Total cost about $5 in supplies because the wood was free.
Here is where things get interesting and potentially very expensive. I spent around $500 on protein for this project. We decided early on that we were going with fleishigs for this event, so high end cured meats were where it was at. When it comes to meat based charcuterie, there are two broad categories, ground or sausage products like salami and whole muscle products like pastrami and jerky.
Whole muscle products tend to be more expensive so I concentrated on ground products like sausages and salamis. It is always fun to give people something they can’t normally get, so I often look outside of Chicago for something special. I ordered about 30 pounds of meat from Wasserman and Lemberger in Baltimore which my brother-in-law was nice enough to fly back for me.
How Many Types of Salami Are There?
You want a good variety of items. I ordered four types of salami: super hot (red pepper flake), black pepper, Italian, and garlic. Alongside the salami I order two other types of sausages: chorizo, a spicy smoked sausage from Spain , and landejager, a German sausage made with red wine and spices. Lastly but certainly not least from Wasserman and Lemberger, I procured four types of their beef jerky: regular, spicy, teriyaki, and barbecue to use as accents on my board. Jerky is fairly expensive so I didn’t buy a lot. It was received and and the first thing to be gobbled up. The Wasserman and Lemberger items were ordered a few weeks in advance so they some time to dry to point where it developed a nice chew, but didn’t get too hard.
Buying a little early also meant I needed to guess-timate at how much meat I would need. Being in Chicago I have access to some excellent products from Romanian Kosher Sausage Company that I used to purchase the additional meat I need once I had a better picture of the number of people I was feeding. From there I bought some of their standard dried salami, beef sticks, and some smokey snacks (a sort of salami jerky of sorts)
You can get really fancy with your protein choices and include things like (beef or lamb) bacon, (beef, veal, or lamb) pancetta, or coppa, but your costs will start to get much higher. Of course you could go with smoked fish such as different types of lox, whitefish, and sable.
If dairy is your thing, the types of cheeses out there are endless. Don’t be afraid to try something a little funky or runny. A baked brie is great, a little blue cheese is nothing to be afraid of, and a fresh mozzarella can be divine. I really love The Cheese Guy products, they have high quality products that are a little more interesting (in a good way) than what you see from most kosher cheese companies. The owner, Brent Delman, is also a super nice guy. Of course if you don’t need your board to be kosher you can do a combination of meats, fish, and cheeses.
While the meat is the star of the show, the sides are supporting actors that help bring the whole thing together. The bread and butter (pun intended) of charcuterie board sides are pickles. I used some dill chips and and some gherkins for what I would call your standard cucumber based pickles, but the possibilities are endless. I also included in this category some spicy giardiniera (a relish made of assorted vegetables) and olives. Again, you can get super fancy with olives if you have the budget, but I just used some fairly standard jarred pimento stuffed green olives that you can find in any major grocery store to keep costs down.
Let’s Add Some Crunch
Nuts are also a great item to add to a charcuterie board. They add some texture to the whole experience. A large container of mixed nuts from Sam’s Club or Costco works well. You can find flavored nuts but I think that can distract from the overall experience.
The final item I would place in this category are crackers. Crackers are kind of the setting of a story. It’s not there to stand out but it’s needed to give the story structure. I used some basic generic snacker (AKA Ritz) style crackers along with some flavored Triscuits. Obviously there are countless varieties of crackers at all sorts of price points, but if you are trying to stay on a budget this is one place you can go with the cheaper options. Crostinis, thin slices of toasted baguette are often used instead of crackers, but I just didn’t have the time to make them for this event.
Other options that work nicely as sides are dried fruit that go well on a cheese board, or capers that compliment smoked fish.
Overall, I spent about $50 on sides.
If you are going with a meat based board, different types of mustard are your go to condiments. You can easily find yellow, Dijon, spicy brown, and honey in most major grocery stores. Skip the fancy brands and even the large national brands and go with the generic or store brands. They will be cheaper and no one will know the difference. Save your money for the proteins.
Ketchup is a classic, although in Chicago it can be considered a crime. BBQ sauces can be fun and come in all varieties. If you like a some heat there are countless hot sauces that you can add to your charcuterie board. Alternatively, for a cheese board, fruit jams are nice. Finally for fish, tartar sauce works well.
Things I would have done differently
Based on the number of people we had I could have definitely gone with less meat and saved a few bucks. We had plenty of meat left over. I also should have gone with a larger board. In the future I may cover the whole table in butcher paper instead of using a board. The board was piled super high with my meat. I had to put my condiments and sides next to it instead of on it. While I love jerky, it was a bit too expensive for this application. Due to it’s price I didn’t have enough of it for it really make an impression.
If you like this post you might like: Mr. Peikes Goes to Seattle, Washington or the Time I Flew With 100 lbs of Meat