Charcuterie boards have gone from favorite appetizers at restaurants to party staples you can DIY with grocery store ingredients that cost less than you might think.
You don’t have to be a chef or caterer to make an elegant, crowd pleasing charcuterie tray full of cured meats, cheeses and complementary snacking accessories. You also don’t have to spend big bucks.
How to Make a Meat and Cheese Board on a Budget
Meat and cheese boards are super easy to make.
The staples for a proper charcuterie board are cured meats with cheese options, plus a selection of dried or fresh fruits, nuts, crackers, spreads, olives and pickled vegetables. Think of it as a glorified snack tray and choose what appeals to you.
Here’s a shopping list of essentials from Aldi, but you can find a great selection of affordable options at Trader Joe’s, Walmart and Sam’s Club.
- 1 16-ounce jar of kosher baby dill pickles: $1.19
- 1 jar of Spanish Manzanilla green olives: 79 cents
- 1 box sea salt and garlic chive crackers: $1.65
- 1 French baguette: $1.65
- 1 8-ounce package of Genoa salami: $3.85
- 1 4-ounce package of prosciutto: $2.55
- .5 pounds of red grapes: $1.98
- 1 Honeycrisp apple: $1.89
- 1 18-ounce jar of apricot preserves: $1.59
- 1 8-ounce package of fresh mozzarella: $2.39
- 1 Brie round: $2.99
- 1 4-ounce cranberry goat cheese log: $3.99
- 1 10-ounce block of aged white cheddar cheese: $2.65
This much food will easily serve 10 people, with extras on hand for replenishing the board.
How to Choose Items for Your Charcuterie Platter
Ready to make your own cheese board with all the fixings?
Heap on the Cured Meats
These can get pricey if you’re not careful.
Common charcuterie board meats include prosciutto, Genoa salami, pepperoni, pancetta and Soppressata (an Italian salami).
Prosciutto disappears from the board first and it’s the most expensive, but get it when your budget allows.
Pepperoni and salami generally yield more pieces per dollar. Explore what pairs well, and ultimately get whatever gives you the most bang for your buck, or taste buds. People will eat it regardless.
It’s good to have about four different cheeses on a board with a variety of soft cheese and hard cheese from mild and medium to sharp.
You can’t go wrong with mozzarella, goat cheese or a white cheddar. They’re all affordable and have agreeable flavors compared with pungent cheeses like blue or Gorgonzola. But if those are your jam — add ’em.
To get the most fromage for your buck, buy cheese by the block rather than sliced. You can also use the block with a grater and further save on the cost of pre-packaged shredded varieties. (Prepackaged grated cheese also has more preservatives.)
Try to include a goat or sheep cheese for those with milk intolerance, but it really depends on your situation. Don’t fret too much over getting the best cheeses. Buy what you like — and do a taste test if you can! — or grab what’s on sale.
Now Add the Fresh Fruit, Mini Pickles and Personality
This is the fun part because anything goes (short of barbecue ribs). The “side foods” are what makes your plentiful charcuterie platter much more than a humble cheese tray.
Complement sweet with savory to delight all palates. Add mixed nuts, fresh fruit, dried fruits, jelly, mustard, pickles and olives to the array.
When you are making a board on a budget, start with things you have on hand like candied nuts, banana chips, pretzels, cherry peppers, honey or cucumbers. You can stock up on inexpensive charcuterie board items from grocery stores that will keep for a while.
Don’t forget fresh bread and/or crackers — gluten free crackers are a nice touch for your guests.
Here are a few more affordable items to keep on hand for your charcuterie boards.
Trader Joe’s Shopping List
- Trio pack of dried apricots: $1.49
- Individual packs of chocolate covered almonds: $1.29
- Fruit pastes for creating letters and shapes with knives or cookie cutters: 49 cents
To personalize a charcuterie board, you can spell out someone’s name with fruit leather or cut out a heart, candles or any shape to place on top of a round of cheese.
A Great Cheese Board Needs Great Presentation
The charcuterie board ingredients you choose give your creation personality and distinguish it from an average cheese plate. So do the serving utensils and the board on which you serve your delicious spread.
You can find distinctive cheese knives, tongs, sugar shells, pickle forks and baby silverware at thrift stores and estate sales for a bargain.
You can also find a large cutting board or an old-school turning Lazy Susan the same way. Scout stores such as Ikea, HomeGoods, T.J. Maxx and Tuesday Morning for a wooden board in any shape and size.
Arrange Your Cheap Charcuterie Board to Look Expensive
There’s an art to arranging a charcuterie board, and you’ll get better with practice. Prep time is minimal, and there are really no rules. But here are a few helpful tips for preparing a delicious board.
- Prepare and pre-cut ingredients at home, but assemble the board at your destination. An arranged charcuterie board won’t travel well.
- Place bowls, ramekins or short glass jars holding jams, spreads or olives spaced apart on your charcuterie plate.
- Lay out whole fruits or blocks of cheese.
- Arrange sliced meats and cheeses in circles, rows or semicircles. You can overlap, stack or spread out your masterpiece. It’s your creation, and there’s no limit to what you can do — aside from physical space. (Layering can make it appear more bountiful, but may not appeal to those with dietary restrictions.)
- Fill in open spaces with smaller groupings of items such as dried fruit, chocolate almonds or stuffed olives.
Katherine Snow Smith is a freelance writer and editor living in Chapel Hill, N.C., and author of Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker: Missteps and Lessons Learned.