The History Of Cheese And Charcuterie Boards

November 17, 2021

The History Of Cheese And Charcuterie Boards

We believe there is nothing better for entertaining than a cheese or charcuterie board filled with assorted hors d’oeuvres. These snacking platters have only increased in popularity since their invention, and there’s good reason for it—they’re downright delightful. Low maintenance and easy to assemble, yet impressive and crowd-pleasing the cheese and charcuterie board phenomenon is a most welcome development.

Whether you love trying different cheeses or head straight to the cured meat section of the board, the history of cheese and charcuterie boards is a fascinating one. Read on to learn about how these foods were invented, the difference between a cheese board and a charcuterie board, and how to build the edible board of your dreams.

Cheese and charcuterie board history

Cheese has been around for centuries, potentially dating back to 1200 BCE. That’s right: a salty cheese similar to feta was actually found in Egyptian tombs. Charcuterie, on the other hand, is a more recent invention—relatively speaking—having been invented in 15th century France. Using salt to cure meats dates back to the Roman empire, but the French pioneered the modern version of charcuterie.

Charcuterie is the pairing of two French terms — chair meaning meat and cuit meaning cooked — and came about in the 15th century for shops specializing in cured meats. Using all portions of the animal reduced waste, while adding salt, herbs, and spices resulted in a truly delicious, perfectly preserved product. The French aren't the only ones curing and preserving meat in a delicious way, but their term is the one that seems to have stuck. 

Charcuterie boards, which typically have an array of both cured meats and cheeses, have become increasingly popular—particularly in the United States. The cheese course, a typical after-the-main meal course in Europe and eventually the United States, took on different forms over time. For example, the Ploughman's Lunch, a favorite English pub meal today was an everyday version of the charcuterie board favored for its portability (and tastiness, of course) when working outdoors, is another version of charcuterie. In the US, the cheese course was a favorite of wealthy households, but in the early 1900s, easy finger foods to pair with the newly invented cocktail became all the rage. Such informal dining options only increased in the 1940s and 1950s with the advent of the smorgasbord and its delightful trays of meats, cheeses, and you can see where we're going. By the 1990s, Americans were setting up their first official charcuterie boards.

After all, it’s the perfect fancy-yet-rustic accompaniment to a nice bottle of wine. Many cultures have their own versions of charcuterie, from the Italian salumeria to Japan’s ostumami and the aforementioned Ploughman's Lunch. Many cheese boards feature additional accouterments to pair with the classic cheese and meat, including fresh fruit, crudites, occasional jams and chutneys, and assorted nuts. 

With the rise of social media, the cheese board trend isn’t going away anytime soon—and why would we want it to? Some have even started to make charcuterie-inspired boards with other foods, from candy to fruit to hot chocolate and s’mores. But if you ask us, you can’t beat the classic: a beautifully arranged board filled with delicious Wisconsin Cheese. Put your cheese and charcuterie together, and you have a fantastic board ready for entertaining!

The difference between cheese boards and charcuterie boards

While you might often find charcuterie on a cheese board—and cheese on a charcuterie board—the two terms aren’t interchangeable. (Though they are both delicious.)

Cheese boards

Cheese boards are all about the cheese. At its most basic, a cheese board has a few varieties of cheese, bread, and/or crackers, and at least one pairing like mustard, jam, or fruit. However, modern cheese boards often have additional accouterments, from slices of salami to condiments to nuts. In a cheese board, each additional element is carefully chosen to pair well with the cheeses.

Charcuterie boards

Charcuterie boards are designed to highlight various types of charcuterie. While cured sausages like salami might be the most familiar, charcuterie can take a wide array of forms. From prosciutto to pâté, chorizo to coppa, a charcuterie board should have multiple types of meat products and accompaniments that pair well with them. And while it’s not necessary, we’ll never say no to a charcuterie board that also has a few cheeses, too!

Favorite Wisconsin Charcuterie

Underground Meats offers an award-winning Calabrian sausage, which is peppered with Wisconsin-grown Calabrian chilies prepared three different ways. Their artisanal charcuterie is crafted in small batches and filled with Wisconsin pride. 

Nueske’s, a third-generation family company from Wisconsin, has created a landjaeger that combines the best of Old World tradition with innovative flavor. Super lean cuts of pork and beef are heavily peppered before being smoked with sweet applewood, for a sweet, smoky, savory sausage perfect for any charcuterie board.

Named for the Driftless area of Wisconsin, Driftless Provisions offers sustainable, delicious charcuteries. Not only are their soppressata and salamis amazing, but they also have charcuterie kits available to take the guesswork out of your charcuterie board.

How to make your own cheese or charcuterie board

Making your own cheese or charcuterie board can feel challenging or overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! In fact, it’s an easy three-step process.

Step one: Pick out your cheeses. (And meats, if you’d like.) We usually recommend three to five types of cheeses, depending on the size of your crowd.

Vary the flavors and textures—try one soft cheese, one harder cheese, and one funky cheese. If you’re not sure where to start, we’ve got some award-winning recommendations for you to try below.

Must-try Wisconsin Cheeses

Step two: Pick out your accouterments. Think about what flavors you’d like to pair with your cheeses. Fresh or dried fruit, mustards or jams, salty nuts, briny cornichons…the list goes on. 

Step three: Arrange and style your cheese board. Start by laying out your cheeses, then add in ramekins of jams or jellies. Use space-stealing features like bunches of grapes to add visual interest and create the illusion of bounty. Then, sprinkle in the rest of your accouterments to fill in the gaps.

Voila! You’ve just created a cheese board that’s sure to surprise and delight. Quick, take a picture—it’ll be gone soon!

Looking for additional cheese board inspo? There are tons of talented cheese lovers like yourself on Instagram and TikTok. Follow them for drool-worthy pictures and cutting-wedge styling ideas. Here are a few of our favorites:

Want more cheesy resources? Cheese boards are kind of our thing, so we’ve put together a number of guides to help you create the board of your dreams. (Just promise you’ll tag us in any pictures, okay?)

How to Build a Perfect Cheese Board

The Beginner’s Guide to Cheese Pairing

 7 Pantry Pairings to Build a Cheese Board at Home

 The Cheese Lover’s Guide: Pairing Meats with Cheese 

 The Cheese Lover's Guide: Pairing Wine and Cheese

 6 Wisconsin Original Cheeses You Need to Try

Cheese and charcuterie away!

If you’re looking for a full meal to supplement your cheese board, try our selection of over 400 handcrafted recipes featuring Wisconsin Cheese. Share your fondue feast with us on Instagram or Facebook and become part of the largest cheese community in the world! 

Searching high and low for that one Wisconsin Cheese with no luck? You can get all your favorite Wisconsin Cheeses and cheese gift baskets delivered right to your door with our continuously updated list of cheesemakers and retailers that allow you to order cheese online. Award-winning Wisconsin Cheese is just a click away.


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