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A charcuterie board spread of foods.

While a common appetizer at parties and for entertaining, charcuterie boards can serve as a great main-course alternative, too — especially this year, as the size of our gatherings are more limited. These spreads enable you to still enjoy a variety of foods, but without the time, hassle, and endless leftovers that come with cooking and cleaning up a multi-course meal.

The advantages of charcuterie-board dining abound: The food combinations are endless and customizable to your preferences; it can be as big or small as you desire; besides a handful of small plates, there’s only one board to clean; and everything can be thrown together in a flash.

Plus, if you’ve ever enjoyed a charcuterie board, you know how beautiful they can be — who wouldn’t want to enjoy one?

For a combination that stuns both eyes and taste buds, you will want to be thoughtful in your selections. So, we asked Chef Ryan Dodge, executive chef of Life Time’s LifeCafes nationwide, for his tips on creating your own your charcuterie board at home.

“When I think of a charcuterie board, two words come to mind: opulence and luxury. A well-designed board offers an entire experience, from providing a span of textures to including all flavor notes,” says Dodge. “You can take a bite 50 different ways from a thoughtfully composed board — it’s like a pick-your-taste adventure. It feels like a lavish experience.”

He says a true charcuterie board honors what you place on it and what you pair together. To do so, he advises including something from each of the categories below to ensure you hit on a variety of textures and flavors. Select what’s seasonal, be inspired by a region, focus on a culinary style, or pick and choose from items what you love most.

The star of the board

“Cheese is, in my opinion, the most important part of the spread,” says Dodge. “It’s such a preference food: At my gatherings, the smoked Gouda and sharp cheddar are the first to disappear. Bleu cheese is aromatic and will impact other ingredients, so be conscious of what you pair it with. Cambozola is pliable and spreadable at room temperature. You could even get really festive and build a snowman out of Boursin. Whatever your liking, select a few options for variety.”

Suggested choices: Brie, Manchego, chèvre smoked Gouda, sharp cheddar, Bleu cheese, Cambozola, or Gournay cheese; non-dairy alternatives, such as Treeline herb-garlic French-style cheese, Kit Hill chive cream cheese spread, or Miyoko’s smoked vegan mozzarella

Something with texture

“This is where I like to think about breads and crackers,” says Dodge. “They not only provide texture, but they also serve as your vessel for other ingredients. I’m personally picky in this category as I know whatever you select will influence what you choose to eat it with. You want a strong vessel.”

Suggested choices: Bread, such as a baguette or other artisan bread served plain or lightly toasted with extra-virgin olive oil; crackers, such as thin wheat, almond flour, or flax seed

Something salty

“Charcuterie stems from French cooking traditions, and before nitrates were introduced, the technique was rooted in foods naturally preserved by salt, so it’s a category not to forgo,” says Dodge. “Depending on your selection, choices in this area could also offer spice or heat.”

Suggested choices: Salami, porchetta, speck, prosciutto, sausage, or capicola

Something sweet

“Your choices here compliment your ones in the salty and acidic categories,” says Dodge. “Outside of fruit, you could also look to foods that are candied or honeyed.”

Suggested options: Fresh, seasonal fruit, such as apples, pears, pomegranate, persimmons, or grapes; dried fruit, such as cranberries, figs, dates, or apricots; fruit spreads, such as jam, marmalade, or chutney

Something acidic

“I love using pickled vegetables here,” says Dodge. “Acidic food can be tart, sharp, sour, and bitter, which is great for balancing out the sweet and salty notes.”

Suggested options: Pickles or pickled vegetables, such as pickled artichokes, beets, or asparagus

Bonus Adds

  • Nuts, such as Marcona almonds or candied pecans. “Because nuts are so widely used, take this as an opportunity to pick a more divine selection to add richness,” says Dodge.
  • Olives, such as kalamata or green stuffed with garlic, goat, or bleu cheese. “Hit the olive bar at your local grocer or stuff your own,” says Dodge. “They can add good variety to the board.”
  • Roasted garlic cloves (see recipe below). “Roasted garlic is good for your soul,” says Dodge. “It’ll warm you right up in the winter months.”
  • Spreads, such as balsamic-caramelized onions (see recipe below), olive tapenade, or a chèvre dip. “Balsamic-caramelized onions take some time to cook down, but they’re so worth it,” says Dodge.
  • Raw veggies, such as peppers, carrots, or cucumbers. “Charcuterie boards are a great opportunity to fit in veggies,” says Dodge. “Pick ones that are fun and snappy.”

Recipes

Roasted Garlic

Makes four servings
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 45 to 50 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 garlic bulb
  • Extra-virgin olive oil to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Remove the top of the garlic bulb by slicing with a sharp knife about one-quarter-inch down so the cloves are exposed.
  2. Drizzle the bulb with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Wrap in aluminum foil and place in the oven. Roast for about 40 to 45 minutes, until the bulb is golden brown and soft.
  3. Remove the cloves by simply squeezing the head of the bulb, or use an oyster fork or paring knife to remove individually. Serve warm or let cool.

Balsamic-Caramelized Onions

Makes 1.5 cups
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1.5 hours

Ingredients

  • 4 red onions
  • 1/3 cup avocado oil
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbs. honey
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup water, plus more to taste

Directions

  1. Clean the onions by removing the outer skin and root. Thinly julienne.
  2. Add the avocado oil to a large pan over medium-low heat. Sauté the onions until they start to become translucent with a little browning.
  3. Deglaze the pan with the balsamic vinegar and stir.
  4. Add the honey and stir.
  5. Continue to cook until the liquid is reduced and no longer visible.
  6. Season with salt and pepper. Add 1/2 cup water and reduce until the liquid is gone. Continue adding water and reducing water as needed until onions reach desired texture and candy-like taste.
  7. Cool and serve.
Molly
Molly Schelper

Molly Schelper is a content manager at Life Time.

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