How to Build a Charcuterie Plate on a Budget

On a summer day spent hanging out at the beach, exploring nature or playing in the park, the last thing I want to do is turn on the oven to roast a chicken. Instead, I'm hoping for a quick and light dinner — no cooking required — that will get me right back outside to enjoy the last hours of a long summer evening. At times like these, my go-to is a charcuterie plate: fancy cheeses, thinly sliced meats and special accompaniments.

I first experienced the wonders of charcuterie at a hip restaurant in Boston's Back Bay, but it was too expensive to keep going back, so I decided to make one myself.

Assemble Cheeses and Meat

While the individual items on a charcuterie plate can get pricey, there are easy ways to cut down on the cost. Tweet this For instance, you only need two or three slices of cured meat per person. If you're only feeding two people, it may be cheaper and more delicious to buy a small amount of the fancy stuff at the deli counter than choosing more of a pre-packaged variety.

When it comes to selecting cheeses, I like to choose a trio: one hard (such as cheddar), one soft (such as goat cheese) and one somewhere in between (such as blue cheese or brie). If you're looking for advice, ask for help. When I'm at a more upscale grocery store or farmers market, I like to strike up a conversation with the cheese monger. These people truly know and love what they are doing, and they usually are happy to slice off a small taste so you do not have to purchase a large, expensive chunk of cheese. My other strategy is to rummage through the "scrap" cheese bin; there you can find small pieces of high-priced cheese for under $2!

Add "Snackables"

Because cheese and cured meats are high in saturated fat and sodium, I like to add balance to the plate with healthier sides, such as:

  • Whole-wheat baguette slices (for fiber)
  • Unsalted nuts (for extra protein and unsaturated fats)
  • Olives (high in sodium, but also high in healthy fats)
  • No-sugar-added preserves or honey
  • Dried fruits
  • Hummus

Don't Forget Produce

Make sure there's plenty of bite-sized fruits and veggies on the plate, too. Half of every meal — even a charcuterie plate — should consist of these foods. My favorites include:

  • Strawberries or other berries
  • Cherries
  • Sliced starfruit
  • Citrus segments
  • Sliced apples, pears or peaches
  • Figs
  • Grapes
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Chilled roasted vegetables
  • Canned artichoke hearts, drained
  • Fresh herbs

It may seem fancy, but charcuterie plates are completely adaptable — pick and choose to please your taste buds and budget. Plus, you can avoid dirtying your pots and pans. All you need is a large cutting board, a knife or two, some toothpicks and some napkins. Lay everything out on the cutting board and dinner is served!

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Annette Jochum
Annette Jochum, MS, RD, LDN, is a Boston-based dietitian and self-taught culinary scientist. She just completed a masters in nutritional biochemistry and is looking forward to a career in nutrition research and counseling. Read her blog, Food Science Nerd, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.