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Inventive Charcuterie Trends Revitalize At-Home Entertaining

New ideas on what is considered board-worthy
Dried Meats
Fiorucci Foods offers a variety of specialty meats and cheeses suitable for inclusion on charcuterie boards.

In the world of charcuterie, Gelson’s Markets is a star. Ahead of the recent Academy Awards telecast, the Encino, Calif.-based indie rolled out a selection of “show-stopping, jaw-dropping charcuterie boards served with specially picked wine and champagne, perfect for a classy night celebrating the silver screen with friends and family.”

The inclusion of alcoholic beverages with its charcuterie boards is strategic for the grocer, which operates 27 stores in Southern California. “We cross-merchandise with various departments, i.e., the liquor department, create signage that drives customers to learn more about a product or event, and have knowledgeable employees in-store to help sell the product,” notes Gayle De Caro, Gelson’s category manager of specialty cheese and deli merchandising.

[Read more: "What Are the Biggest Home Cooking Trends For Rest of 2023?"]

That’s Entertaining

To know how to meet consumers’ entertaining needs, it’s useful to look at what they’re seeking. Shawn Munk, director of marketing, European brands and foodservice at Colonial Heights, Va.-based specialty meat and cheese provider Fiorucci Foods Inc., a division of Sigma USA, asserts that “we are seeing [that] charcuterie, grazing and snacking boards [are] more popular than ever. According to Technomic’s Ignite Menu data, charcuterie and meat/cheese platters have grown 7.7% over the last year. Many options now feature a variety of cultural infusions from different countries and regions across a wide array of meats, cheeses, crackers and other accompaniments.”

On the retail front, Munk says: “We’ve found that consumers are purchasing our specialty products with other Italian ingredients found throughout store shelves. In fact, based on internal consumer research we’ve conducted, nine out of 10 consumers link our products to premium Italian cheeses, and roughly two-thirds associate our products with oils, vinegars, pasta sauces, and more. There are opportunities for cross-selling throughout the deli section that retailers and suppliers can capitalize on … to help drive incremental growth. And charcuterie is not just for the fourth-quarter holidays – consumers are entertaining now throughout the year and getting back together more than ever before, so keep in mind upcoming seasonal moments throughout the year.”

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Fruit can be a welcome addition to a charcuterie board, as this display from ham and cured meat producer Rovagnati USA shows.

Any Time of Day, and Many Types of Food

Other interesting trends include when consumers are enjoying their boards and what they’re including on them.

“What was once called a cheese board is now referred to as a charcuterie board, and really almost anything goes as long as it includes cheese,” points out Debbie Seife, director of marketing at Dutch multinational dairy cooperative FrieslandCampina, whose U.S. headquarters is in Paramus, N.J. “Traditionally, consumers were making a board for entertaining before dinner, with just cheese and meat. Today, consumers are enjoying boards throughout the day. Brunch boards, appetizer boards, dessert boards and even personal boards are being created across the United States. Consumers are having a lot of fun with boards, mixing and matching cheese with meat, crackers, crusty bread, veggies, [and] fresh and dried fruit, as well as chocolate. Brunch boards have croissants, muffins, hardboiled eggs and bacon, [and] dessert boards have fruit, chocolate and pastries. It has really become a canvas to be creative.”

“We’re seeing charcuterie boards and cheese trays not only being served as an appetizer, but as the main event when used in the popular grazing table trend,” agrees Allison Schuman, chief business development officer at Fairfield, N.J.-based Schuman Cheese. “Grazing tables are a great option for hosting because they save you the task of cooking and serving up food the whole time, so you can focus on enjoying the company of your guests. To take it one step further, pre-made trays and charcuterie boards, like our Cello Simple Pleasures Trays, have been a hit with consumers because they get to eliminate the task of figuring out which cheeses to include and what to pair them with.”

Munk describes the current consumer attitude to charcuterie as a “make-it-your-own type of approach,” and also observes that “[c]harcuterie boards are now inviting more vegetable and fruit pairings that are continuously updated throughout the year as these ingredients [go] in and out of season.”

To aid the creation of innovative boards like the ones described above, Seife recommends that retailers     “[g]ive consumers ideas and make adding the pairings and accompaniments easy for consumers. Specialty cheese can be enjoyed throughout the day and for different occasions.”

A show-stopping charcuterie board from Gelson's Markets highlights gourmet cheese.

Seeing Is Believing

Asked what retailers should be doing to promote such products as home entertaining gains steam once more, De Caro replies: “They should use their social media platforms, along with virtual events. Gelson’s has been successful with our virtual Build Your Own Cheese and Charcuterie Board sessions, where customers can sign up for an online presentation from our certified cheese professionals on how to build their own boards at home. These are in addition to our educational virtual wine-and-cheese pairing events.”

“For the past couple of years, the search trend for ‘charcuterie board’ has exploded,” observes Lorenzo Tedeschi, sales director at New York-based Rovagnati USA, a producer of ham and cured meats. “Millennials – and the internet in general – can’t get enough of them, for many reasons. They are the perfect shared finger food for your guests when you host, looking beautiful, combining lots of interesting and delicious foods, and letting every guest get creative on the combinations they choose. This helps to elevate the concept of finger food itself, shifting slowly towards Italian-style gourmet gatherings and aperitifs. Also, there is the undeniable fact that they look great on Instagram, Pinterest and social media in general.”

That being the case, Tedeschi advises “[g]iving the consumer ideas and inspiration on how to consume their products (recipes), how to pair them and when to consume them (consuming occasions). This can be done directly at point of sale or digitally [through] social media content, videos, etc.”

Schuman is also big on digital marketing. “Social media is a great way to connect with consumers and create an interactive charcuterie board-building experience,” she notes. “As part of our Cheesing with Cello program, we’ve partnered with influential experts to host live classes on Instagram showcasing how to build your own charcuterie board at home. It is such a great way to spark that inspiration for consumers and help educate them on the best cheese selections/pairings, so they can confidently put together a board for their next party.”

The upshot is, whether online or in-store, image is everything. “A photo can be really helpful for consumers to see how creative they can be, especially if around a holiday,” says Seife.

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Fiorucci Board
Sweet items like chocolate-dipped strawberries are increasingly showing up on charcuterie boards, as in this example from Fiorucci Foods.

Next on Board

Upcoming trends in the charcuterie space promise to be just as exciting as what’s already happening.

Gelson’s De Caro identifies the following ingredients as contenders: “Fermented foods and crunchy elements like unique flavored chips, pork rinds and caramel popcorn, because they add that crunch, savory or spicy factor that elevates the flavors of the board.”

Meanwhile, Rovagnati USA’s Tedeschi cites unusual food combinations and new usage occasions: “We are starting to see more exotic and out-of-the-ordinary ingredients, … such as tropical fruits, dried fruit and jam, paired with traditional ingredients such as cheese and fine cold cuts. Also, new consuming occasions are trending on Pinterest, such as ‘birthday’ charcuterie boards, replacing birthday cakes [at] celebrations.”

Looking to the second half of the year, Schuman predicts: “With spring/summer on the horizon, we expect to see in-season fruit like apricots, peaches, strawberries, etc., that we typically don’t see on winter boards making a comeback to add those bright colors and new textures. We also anticipate these fruity flavors to show up within the cheeses themselves during this timeframe.” 

She goes on to note the continued rise of sweet additions: “We have also seen people getting more and more adventurous with adding non-cheese and -meat inclusions onto their cheese boards. We have seen people play around with putting our Delve Mascarpone Truffles on cheese boards as a fun pop of mascarpone and chocolate, for an unexpected sweet indulgence.”

“I think it is great fun to add chocolate to a board,” enthuses FrieslandCampina’s Seife. “Chocolate-covered espresso beans, chocolate-dipped strawberries and stroop waffles are all crowd pleasers and not expected.”

Fiorucci Foods’ Munk is perhaps the most granular when it comes to the types of ingredients that consumers will want to place on their charcuterie boards: “According to recent consumer research we’ve conducted with help from Datassential, some fast-growing sweet options include pomegranates, passion and dragon fruits, pineapple, and tangerines. Some salty and savory ingredients are hot honey sauce, dulce de leche spreads, macadamia and pecan nuts, mangos, and Gouda and Romano cheeses.

[F]inally, some unique dessert offerings are becoming more prevalent, like gingerbreads, truffle chocolates, churros, toffee crisps and mini birthday cakes, because why not? Really, the list of emerging and groundbreaking ingredients … is endless, and we believe that’s because consumers are open to experimenting more with exotic flavors and letting their tastebuds take them on a [journey] to world cuisine from the comfort of their homes.” 

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