What exactly are grazing and charcuterie boards?
Adored by Instagrammars and seemingly the latest trend in casual entertaining, charcuterie boards are in fact steeped in European tradition, from the timeless offerings of French picnics (Charcuterie is French for cured cold meats) to Italian ‘antipasti’ and Spanish tapas. Today the arranging of different foods together for sharing also brings in cheeses, delicatessen favourites, dips, fruit, veg and nuts – there are no hard and fast rules, so this Ultimate Guide is more a source of inspiration and grazing board ideas using our versatile crackers, oatcakes and flatbreads, rather than setting out any strict do’s and don’ts. Sharing boards and platters can be assembled for all kinds of occasions: easy dining (a grazing board is a fantastic ice-breaking alternative to a plated starter), outdoor eating, and even a special date night in front of the TV for relaxed picking.
What makes a great grazing platter?
Variety is key
You want a good selection of foods and also different colours, textures and flavours to balance everything out. A classic charcuterie board will include a few cured meats: classic examples are Parma and Serrano ham, saucisson sec, jambon de Bayonne, a high-quality salami and perhaps some duck liver pâté or a slice of pork and pistachio terrine. The good news is that UK artisan producers are now getting in on the act, with high quality home reared and cured products to rival their continental counterparts. Try your local farm shop or deli for regional delicacies.
Non-meat eaters can enjoy a spread of cheeses, interspersed with little piles or dishes of olives, artichoke hearts, perhaps some thinly sliced celery and whole radishes for a salty, peppery crunch. A vine or two of cherry tomatoes looks pretty and will work beautifully with any grazing board. Pescatarians will love an array of seafood like smoked salmon, cooked prawns in their shells, fresh anchovies and perhaps a dish of homemade mackerel pâté.
While bread can be served alongside, crackers, oatcakes and flatbreads offer plenty of crunch and versatility, with the added advantage of some being gluten-free. Nairn’s offer the perfect blank canvas with plain oatcakes - either fine milled for a thinner, crispier bite to contrast with a creamy dip, or with a rough finish for a robust base on which to pile up the toppings. Our larger crunchy Flatbreads make for a bigger surface area on which to dollop toppings galore, while our Wholegrain Crackers form an essential part of any cheeseboard.
Mix and match
For a perfectly balanced cheese and meat platter we recommend that you aim to create plenty of contrast. You could pair a creamy subtle mozzarella with Nairn’s punchy Rosemary & Sea Salt Flatbreads, say, or combine a coarse boozy pâté with the smooth delicate taste of our Organic Scottish Oatcakes. Offset a rich Stilton with a sweet quince jelly and the plain simplicity of a Nairn’s Super Seeded Gluten Free Cracker. Marry a gamey salami with wafer-thin slices of fennel and dainty Mini Oatcakes. Experiment and have fun by bringing together exciting flavours and ideas. Above all, be bold – the advantage of grazing boards is there’s always something for everyone, so if a guest hates olives, there’ll be plenty of other things for them to munch on. . .
Make sure you lay on a big supply of crackers, oatcakes and crisp flatbreads. If you’re serving your grazing board as an informal starter you don’t want everyone getting full up on bread before the main course, so opt for crunchy, light options which can also look appealing in their own right. Which brings us on to . . .
Presentation is (almost) everything
While the content of your board can be really anything you like, you want it to look appetising rather than chaotic, so here are a few useful pointers to keep in mind.
Get the foundation right
The great thing here is that while there are some sumptuous ceramic platters around which are dedicated to this exact purpose, you can use just about anything you have to hand on which to assemble your selection. A big wooden chopping or bread board, marble pastry slab and nice-looking trays (scrubbed squeaky clean) all make excellent grazing ‘fields’, and even a metal oven baking sheet can be covered in parchment paper for an easy hack.
Think about scale
It’s worth reviewing your board as you go, keeping an eye on quantities and deciding whether to pre-portion or not. You might prefer to have a centrally placed big wedge of cheese, for instance, or you might feel that some artfully arranged slices look more effective. As a rule of thumb, it’s nice to mix up the scale with a few generously sized main items interspersed with a handful of different additions. Try to avoid small quantities of multiple items which risk a messy effect and make tucking in trickier.
Decant & unwrap
Take meats out of their packaging and separate the slices. This makes them easier to pick up and by draping, wrapping or crumpling them into a cluster, you create some height and interest to your board. Empty hummus and other dips (try our Roasted Squash and Carrot version for a terrific vegan picnic idea) into pretty bowls and use ramekins for nuts (we love salted almonds) and olives.
Add some colour
This is where your fruit and veg comes in. If your board is predominantly meat or cheese-based you’ll want to add some visual interest and complementary flavours. Figs are your friend here because they look divine halved or quartered; whole sprigs of herbs like flat leaf parsley or rosemary will bring fragrance and an attractive leafy touch; scatter blackberries (gorgeous with goat’s cheese) or sprinkle over edible flowers for a rustic vibe.
Get creative with your crackers
Savoury biscuits of all kinds can add structure and pleasing patterns to your grazing platter. Fan out your crackers directly on the board, arrange oatcakes in a basket lined with a linen napkin, or simply place mini-towers of crispbreads in between your hero ingredients.
A few final tips
- Don’t leave your board out for longer than a couple of hours if it includes meat or fish products
- Keep the original packaging so you can easily re-wrap and refrigerate anything not consumed
- If your board is for a party, you can supply little recycled boxes for guests to help themselves to a ‘take out’ to use up the leftovers
For more charcuterie board and picnic ideas look at our recipe section and check out the full range of Nairn’s oatcakes, crackers and flatbreads – they’re all you need to complete your Ultimate Grazing Board.