You've seen those gorgeous, colorful, meticulously-styled gluten free charcuterie boards floating around Pinterest and Instagram. And you've likely wondered "how the hell do they pull that off?"
At the beginning of the year, I threw a holiday soiree for our friends. Partially because hanging out with friends is awesome. And partially (selfishly) because I wanted an excuse to try my hand at building a beautiful gluten free charcuterie board.
What did I discover? It's not as hard as I expected.
In fact, once I built my first board, crafting more has been downright easy.
But since posting my own creations on Instagram, I've gotten numerous requests from my internet friends and IRL friends to put together a tutorial so they can build epic charcuterie boards to delight and awe their friends and family, too.
This tutorial will show you how to build an epic gluten free charcuterie board — from planning what to include, balancing flavors and textures, and styling the board for the biggest visual impact.
Planning: what to include on a gluten free charcuterie board
When building a charcuterie board, the first hurdle is deciding what to include on the board.
You've got LOTS of options to pick from, so I suggest planning what you'd like to include before you go to the grocery store. It's definitely easy to end up buying way more than will ever fit on your board!
Here are just a few categories to consider:
You're going to need charcuterie for your charcuterie board!
Not sure what I'm even talking about? Charcuterie is a French term for cold cuts of meat. (So, charcuterie board is just a fancy way to say "meat tray").
A few kinds that I have reached for in the past:
- Uncured pepperoni
- Uncured salami
- Uncured sopressata
- Uncured proscuitto
- Uncured capocollo
You'll noticed I specified that I use uncured cold cuts. For me, this is the way to go. I try to stick with uncured "cured" meats to avoid nitrates in my food.
Because of course, meat and cheese just belong together.
I don't always eat dairy (and actually, most of the time I avoid it), but for special occasions that warrant a charcuterie board, I go in for real cheese.
However, you can always opt for dairy free cheese if you'd like. Numerous brands of dairy free cheese are available now, like Kite Hill.
When choosing cheeses for your board, use these tips to guide your purchases:
- Try to vary the hardness of the cheeses you include. I almost always include at least one soft cheese (usually chèvre goat cheese) and one hard cheese, like a block of cheddar.
- Likewise, vary the "strength" of the cheeses you pick. Choose mildly flavored and strong cheese, so your gluten free charcuterie board has a variety of flavor combos to pick from.
Beyond that, I encourage you to explore and experiment! Pick a cheese you've never had before to see how you like it. Sometimes you'll surprise yourself!
Fruits (Fresh and Dried)
Fruit adds some sweetness and variety to your gluten free charcuterie board.
Here are a few of my favorite options:
- Berries (blackberries are my favorites!)
- Figs (fresh or dried)
- Dried cranberries or blueberries
Crackers and More Crunchy Snacks
Yes! Crackers still have a place on gluten free charcuterie boards. You can omit crackers if you'd like, but there are so many excellent gluten free options out there.
Plus, I find my non-gluten free friends appreciate still having a crunchy snack option. And, as we'll get to below, including crackers or other crunchy snacks helps vary the textures, which is important for an epic charcuterie board.
A few of my favorite brands and products to include:
- Jilz Crackers gluten free crackers (they're all amazing, but I usually go for the Original)
- Epic Provisions Maple Bacon Pork Cracklings
- Plantain Chips
- Nuts (toasted or raw)
Avoid large snacks like tortilla chips or pre-made "clusters." I find that they take up too much room on a charcuterie board and are best served separately.
But wait, there's more!
These are some of my favorite extra inclusions that help take your gluten free charcuterie board to the next level:
- Jam or preserves - similar to fruit, this adds a touch of sweetness. And seriously, it's hard to beat the combo of cracker + chèvre + jam + salami. My pick is fig jam!
- High quality dark chocolate - either in the form of squares or chocolate-covered almonds.
- Sprigs of hardy herbs, like rosemary or thyme - these won't get eaten, but they are useful for styling your board!
- Pickles, olives, or other preserved finger-friendly foods.
Balancing flavors and textures on your charcuterie board
I'm doing my best to keep this section relatively short! I mentioned above that when choosing meats and cheeses, you want to have multiple varieties and try and pick varying flavors.
For me, charcuterie boards are a smorgasbord of textures, flavors, and sights. BUT, you can only cram so much onto one board.
So here are my tips to prevent you from going WAY too overboard with variety while still making sure you've got a bit of everything:
- Pick 3-4 types of cold cuts.
- Choose at least one soft, spreadable cheese and one hard cheese. Again, 3-4 types of cheese should do it! Make sure at least one cheese is more mild (not everyone likes to be punched in the face by pungent cheese like I do).
- Always include something crunchy, even if you don't opt for crackers. Meat and cheese are both soft, so you want to balance that out with a bit of crunch. Crackers, pork rinds/cracklings, or nuts can all fill that void. I usually pick 2 kinds of crackers, then use crackings and toasted nuts to fill in gaps while styling.
- Add sweetness with fruit or jams. I seriously think this is necessary — after all, apples and cheese are an AMAZING combo. Plus, fruit has varying textures, too! Crunchy apples, sweet spreadable jam, chewy dried cranberries. I try to go for variety here. You'll see my boards have at least one fresh fruit, one jam, and one dried fruit.
- A little brine goes a long way! I like adding pickles, olives, or some other kind of fermented or pickled snack. This could be my personal preference, but I love pickled foods and enjoy including such a unique flavor on my boards!
Styling your gluten free charcuterie board
This is the hard part of this tutorial, because I think I had an edge building my first board because I'm a food blogger and wedding photographer. I know a little bit about food styling and overall composition.
But I can pass along a few tips I think might help you craft your board from start to finish!
So. First, styling will depend on the size and shape of the board you're using. I used my largest wooden rectangular board, but you might end up using a slim serving board, a square board, or a circle. I've only ever used a rectangular shape, but I think my tips can be transferred to most other shapes.
Start by mentally dividing your board into three equal parts vertically and three equal parts horizontally, creating a grid with 4 intersecting points. Following me? It kinda looks like this:
Work from Biggest to Smallest
Start with bigger items, like a small jar of jam, soft cheeses like chèvre that can't be cut up, or a decorative cup of nuts. Place these on or near the intersecting points of your mental grid (see above). Why? These bigger items are the focal points of your board, and these intersecting points are the most visually pleasing place to put those focal points.
From there, start adding meats, cheeses, and crackers. Usually, these are the next-biggest item that take up more real estate of your board.
Keep Variety in Mind
Try to avoid placing different varieties of the same food next to each other. So avoid putting the salami with the proscuitto or the cheddar with the gouda. That's partially to avoid confusion about which meat/cheese is which and partially to avoid clustering all the meat and/or cheese on one part of the board.
If you look at my gluten free charcuterie boards included in this post, there are cheeses and meats all over the board, rarely getting close to each other. This keeps the board visually interesting and prevents it from getting too heavily "weighted" in any one section.
(That said, I'm SURE you could build a beautiful board by styling all the cheeses together, all the meats together, etc. That's just not what I'm going for with my charcuterie boards!)
Don't be afraid to move and shift things! I always end up moving things around to help keep meats or cheeses separate or create space for another item.
Fill in the Gaps
Next, find where you can fill in spaces with sliced apples or pears, berries, nuts, or whatever other foods you've selected for your board that you haven't already used. At this point, you're mostly filling in the gaps!
A Few More Tips
You don't have to use ALL of a particular food all at once on your charcuterie board.
There's no way I could style something like this if I tried to fit an entire block of cheese or package of meat on the board!
Instead, refill the board as needed. If you notice the crackers are running low, add more! If one type of cheese is particularly popular, refresh the supply!
This tip seems common sense when you realize it, but it was a serious breakthrough for me in styling my board. You're just not going to be able to add as much variety if you're trying to fit a whole package of blackberries on the board.
When I craft my gluten free charcuterie boards now, the ONLY entire package that goes on the board is the chèvre. And I guess, if I really wanted to, I could buy two and have one as a backup.
Whew. That's a lot! Considering I usually write recipe posts, I feel like this "How to Build an Epic Gluten Free Charcuterie Board" tutorial is fantastically long.
But was it helpful? Did I miss anything? Hit me up with any questions you might have below!
I would LOVE it if you tag me (@doyouevenpaleo) in your charcuterie board creations on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter if you used this post to help you!