Charcuterie boards are a big trend in dining because they’re so versatile. They can be served as a light lunch or as an appetizer before a meal. Charcuterie boards can also be served at the end of a meal, instead of dessert, to delight people who do not have a sweet tooth.

What is Charcuterie, anyway?

Charcuterie is the culinary art of preparing a selection of bite-sized cured and preserved meat products to sample. The meats are often served sliced or diced, with a selection of cheeses and crackers. Variety is added with pickles, olives, nuts and dried or fresh fruit.

Meats on a charcuterie board can include dried sausages such as salami plus pressed meats such as terrines, galantines, ballotines, pâtés, and confit.

Charcuterie is a traditional skill. It is how butchers in Europe and Asia preserved meats before the days of refrigeration. Like pickled vegetables, the charcuterie meat may be“cured” in a liquid that contains salt, vinegar, herbs and spices. Or the charcuterie meat may be air-dried or smoked to intensify flavor.

It takes many years of skill to become a Charcutier – a butcher who is expert in making Charcuterie. FOODSERVICE APME makes their own premium-quality range of European-style charcuterie, called Carne Meats.

Experienced master butchers are in charge of specialist butchery teams, to ensure quality every step of the way. The Carne Meats range of charcuterie is made with no added MSG and no fillers. There are also 100% Halal options available.

How do you set up the perfect Charcuterie board?

Charcuterie boards are popular because they are versatile. You can keep the board simple and serve one great preserved meat. Or you can serve a selection of cured meats with different flavors. For example, one salty meat, one sweetish meat and one spicy meat.

A charcuterie board can be as simple as one kind of preserved meat, with bread or crackers
Credit: "Proscuitto @ Fornino" by amlamster is licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you want to be even more fancy, you can add different cheeses and vegetables. Popular options include cheese, crackers and slices of bread, pickles, olives and dried or fresh fruit. It all depends on your taste, and budget.

Here are fast facts to help you pick quality charcuterie and set up the perfect charcuterie board:

What is the mold on a salami sausage –is it dangerous?

The white mold on the outside of a salami sausage is a natural part of the aging process of many deli meats. The mold adds texture, fragrance and flavor to the meat, like the fluffy “cats fur” mold that grows on the outside of quality cheese like Brie.

Credit: "Selbstgemachte Salamie aus Frankreich: mit Rotwein und Camembert" by wuestenigel is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The mold on the outside of salami is usually “Penicillium Nalgiovense”. This white mold is safe to eat. It acts as a natural barrier to protect the salami from unsafe molds or bacteria. This safe mold also keeps the salami from drying out too fast, so it has time to develop delicious flavors.

Modern salami-style sausages are often cleaned before packaging, but if mold appears, you can remove it by wiping the salami with a cloth or peeling off the salami casing or skin. Note that any mold should always be on the outside of the salami sausage – never on the inside.

Look for strong color in air-dry charcuterie meat

Meat can be air-dried by being hung in a windy place for months. The flavor becomes more intense and the fat becomes chewy and full of flavor. Cured or air-dried charcuterie meats like Prosciutto should be dark in color, and have veins of fat all the way through. These veins are called fat “marbling” because they look like the colored veins in a slab of marble.

FOODSERVICE APME makes their own Carne Meats Air-Dry range that is 100% Halal. The range focuses on air-dry beef with the wonderful chewy texture, marbling and flavor you want in air-dried charcuterie.

Check the texture and color of fat in sausages

If you plan to slice a salami-style sausage for a charcuterie board or a cheeseboard, look for lumps of bright white fat.

Credit: "David Mellor Fork with Salami" by Didriks is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Yellow fat is a sign of oxidation, which makes the fat taste stronger. This can be okay if the salami slices will be cooked on a pizza or added to a paella, but most people prefer a milder taste for a cheese board or charcuterie board.

Credit: "Pizza with salami at Automatic Cafe" by avlxyz is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

An irregular shape can be a sign of quality: Rolled and cured meats that are very puffed up, with a very uniform shape, maybe bulked up with fillers. Look for smaller rolls of meat that are a little more lumpy.

Can you smell the ingredients in the charcuterie? A good piece of deli meat should have a varied fragrance – not just a general meat smell. You should be able to smell some of the ingredients used to make the charcuterie, such as garlic, or truffles, or cloves.

Visible ingredients and herbs in the charcuterie are a sign of quality
Credit: "Charcuterie" by stu_spivack is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Look for clues that real smoke was used to dry the charcuterie

Traditional dried charcuterie meat (and dry fish) can be preserved by wind, or by smoke. But it takes time. To save time and costs, chemical “liquid smoke” is sometimes painted onto the outside of the meat or fish to make it look brown and smell “smoky”.

If the brown color is very even, it can be a clue the meat was made with liquid smoke. Another clue is a thick sugary crust, which may be made partly from granular sugar. Charcuterie preserved in real wood smoke tends to be more uneven in color – it’s darker near the bottom, where it was hung closer to the smoke. The crust on the smoked meat is chewy rather than crunchy.

Rainbow on the meat

Do you see a shimmering, almost rainbow effect on the slices of meat? That can be a sign of too many phosphates. Some charcuterie, such as ox tongue, is cured by soaking in a mixture of salt, water, vinegar and spices.

Phosphorus is a mineral that’s naturally found in protein-rich foods including dairy, fish, meat and eggs. Your body needs it to help your kidneys, bones, and muscles function properly.

But a derivative of phosphorus is sometimes added to the curing liquid to lock in moisture and preserve meat. It’s considered safe to eat, but it can leave an aftertaste. Good charcuterie meat doesn’t have a rainbow.

Look for flavoring ingredients in a sausage, like fat, spices or herbs

If a sausage is super-smooth it may contain fillers to make up for the lack of flavoring ingredients.

It’s true that some sausages are naturally smooth – for example, Bologna or Mortadella sausage. But there should still be some resistance when you bite into the sausage.

If the sausage is as soft as butter, it may be a sign the meat and fats have been over-emulsified, with fillers added. The Carne Meats range of charcuterie are made with no added MSG, no fillers and no preservatives.

Hotdog sausages - do you want a natural casing or no casing?

Hotdog sausages can come with skins or “casings” made of cleaned lamb intestines. Or they can be made with no skins, and shaped in molds. If a hotdog sausage is made with a natural casing, it tends to be curved and have a little knot at each end, where the casing is tied off.

Some customers prefer hotdogs made with a casing because they look more artisanal, and they make a satisfying ‘pop’ when you bite them.

But it’s not wrong to make sausage without a casing. It depends on personal tastes. Some traditional European sausages are even eaten without casing. For example, the traditional Bavarian Weisswurst sausage is boiled and cut open to get to the filling. The casing is then thrown away.

So the exact items you choose for your charcuterie board can vary, as long as you provide an appealing variety of colors, textures and looks.

Credit: "Hot Dog # 2" by ddaarryynn is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Charcuterie boards captivate today’s customers because they bring together craft and food cultures. Customers enjoy the artisanal qualities of charcuterie. They like the vibrant and photogenic colors and the DIY element of choosing what to eat.

With so many benefits, you can say charcuterie boards are a food trend that’s perfect for sharing – both in real life and on social media.