Enjoy a low-stress wine and cheese date night at home with these guidelines for putting together charcuterie and cheese boards and tips for setting the mood!
When life gives you delicious fig and olive tapenade, you make a wine and cheese date night out of it.
At least, that’s what happened with me recently.
I had ingredients for a tapenade I didn’t end up making for company, so I made it for myself. And while you could just munch on it after work as a snack, where’s the fun in that?
So Mike and I collected ingredients for a wine and cheese date night at home to accompany the tapenade. We had the one homemade item (the tapenade, and I did also toast the crostini myself) and the rest of the board was just arranging things on a couple nice cutting boards. And really, I think the same principles can be applied for other charcuterie and cheese boards as well.
Charcuterie and cheese board basics
It doesn’t take much work to make a really spectacular cheese or charcuterie board for your wine and cheese date night.
You can have NO homemade recipes or a bunch — think tapenades; sweet-savory jams; a baked brie wheel; stuffed dates, peppers, or mushrooms; pâté; homemade pickles or pickled garlic — and just fill in the rest of the board with cold cuts, fruits, pickles and olives, and cheese.
I only had one homemade item and the rest was basically just arranging on a board, but that one homemade item is plenty and you don’t have to overwork yourself! It will make for an impressive and romantic appetizer board that couldn’t be easier. It’s the best of all worlds.
Here are some basic categories you might want to hit for each type of board, as well as approximate quantities for two.
Cheese board ingredients
- Cheese — for a date night for two, you probably only need one kind of cheese. Plan about 4 oz. of cheese per person. If you do have more than one, try for a contrast of textures and flavors. You can use this easy-to-remember rhyme to plan out multiple cheeses for a good variety: “Something old, something new, something goat, and something blue.” You can’t go wrong with a blue cheese and a brie or other soft cheese like camembert. If you add a third cheese, look for a goat cheese or a hard, aged cheese.
- Fresh fruit — have 2-3 types of fruit to go with your cheese. Fresh figs, strawberries, grapes, or sliced apples or pears are great options. Think of what pairs well with your cheese: for example, pears and blue cheese were meant to be together.
- Nuts — Break out the big guns here. No plain roasted peanuts. Some spiced or herbed cashews would be amazing – just a small bowl will do. We actually didn’t have any nuts on our cheese board, but we did have walnuts on top of our fig and olive tapenade crostini. Just try to have a variety of ingredients.
- Jams or compotes — Again, think of what will pair the best with your cheese. Apricot and fig jams would be my go-tos, or you could make your own exciting recipe like an apple and sweet onion compote.
- Bread or crackers — You’ve got to have something to spread all that cheese on! Some toasted crostini is great, or some nice crackers with a lot of texture. We went through one smallish French loaf but a few crackers would’ve been nice too.
- Olives — I’d probably put these on the charcuterie board if you have one, but if you’re only doing a cheese board olives are nice to have. Some nice buttery ones like Castelvetrano olives would be lovely with cheese and fruit. Again, you just need enough for a little bowl.
Charcuterie board ingredients
- Charcuterie — Charcuterie is really just a fancy word for cold cooked meats, frequently referring to cured meats. Salami, proscuitto, capicola, pâté, and smoked salmon are all good choices. Like the cheese, 4 oz. per person is probably a good estimate if it’s serving as a meal. And once again, variety of textures and flavors is key! We had two different kinds of meats at about 4 oz. each.
- Pickles — We got tiny French cornichons instead of your regular sweet gherkins. Worth every extra penny!
- Olives — Kalamata olives, Castelvetrano olives, whatever strikes your fancy at an olive bar. You can find olive bars at Whole Foods and some other grocery stores. Our Harris Teeter has a great one! — If not, World Market is a great place to look for some interesting jarred olives.
- Other pickled or marinated things — Think pickled garlic, marinated mushrooms, or pickled okra. You can usually find these at an olive bar as well, at World Market, or in the pickle section of the grocery store, or you can make your own.
- Mustard or horseradish spreads — A nice whole-grain French mustard will pair well with your meats! We just set out a tiny little sauce bowl for the mustard.
- Dried fruit — Apricots or figs are great for this. If you don’t have a cheese board and are only doing charcuterie, this can provide the sweetness you need to offset all that salty meat.
Our cheese and charcuterie board
Here’s what we put on the boards for our wine and cheese date night, and their approximate cost. I used the cost of the whole jar of pickles or the whole package of prosciutto even if we only used half, because you sadly can’t purchase only half a jar of pickles.
- 4 oz. brie cheese (we also had cream cheese on the crostini for the tapenade, so that bumped up the oz. per person) – $4
- About 8 strawberries, sliced but attached at stem and fanned out – $2
- Fresh figs, halved – $3
- Pear slices from half a pear – $1
- Cheese board total: $10
- Genoa salami – 8 slices – already in fridge
- Proscuitto – 4 oz. – $8
- Buttery green olives
- Marinated mushrooms
- Marinated artichokes – $8 for the artichokes, mushrooms, and olives (from olive bar)
- French cornichons – $7
- French whole grain mustard – already in fridge
- Charcuterie board total: $23
- 1 loaf French bread, sliced, brushed with olive oil, and toasted to make crostini – $2
- Fig and olive tapenade with walnuts – $10 for ingredients, including dried figs, kalamata olives, and cream cheese
- Some pre-assembled crostini with cream cheese, fig and olive tapenade, and walnuts.
- Don’t forget the wine!! – already had some
- Other total: $12
If you get nice meats and cheeses it may not be a “cheap” date night at home but it’s definitely less expensive than going out to a restaurant, ordering the same stuff (especially the wine), and leaving a tip. But you can definitely keep the cost lower if you want!
Since we splurged a bit on prosciutto, marinated tasties from the olive bar, and the nice cornichons instead of cheaper gherkins ($7 vs. $3 and worth every penny!), all our ingredients cost about $45, not including the bottle of wine we already had. We had leftovers of extra tapenade, pickles, fruit, marinated mushrooms, olives, and even some of the meat that I could snack on throughout the week.
You could cut the costs if you use more common fruits or ones you’re already buying for the week, like strawberries, grapes, or apples. And regular genoa salami from the deli is just fine if you arrange it artfully! If you find a couple different cured meats at the deli and order 1/4 lb. each so it’s just what you need, you can keep your meat costs around $5 total even for the nicer brands like Boar’s head.
I would say don’t go cheap on the cheese with commercially-packaged stuff from the lunch meat section. We found nice triple cream brie we wanted and just found a small wedge of it that was still only $4 or so. Even a really nice cheese, in a small 4- to 6-oz. wedge, probably won’t cost more than $8 at the upper end. A good cheese will make your wine and cheese date night feel luxurious even if your fruits and meats are more everyday items.
Arranging your charcuterie and cheese board
You can have one big board or two smaller boards for cheese and charcuterie, like I did here.
First, figure out which things might be better contained in little bowls. Olives and other marinated things are good candidates for bowls so they don’t get their juices all over your other ingredients or roll away. I also included a tiny dish for the mustard.
Place the bowls and large items like cheese or a block of pâté first, distributed evenly around the board. Then you can fill in the spaces with the rest of your ingredients. If you have two meats, place them on opposite sides of the board to really emphasize the variety you have – same goes for fruits.
Sliced meat can be arranged a couple of ways – in little rolls or in an attractive pile with lots of folds. Don’t just peel a few pieces of salami out of a package and put them on the board, still stuck together. You don’t want to feel like you’re eating sandwich meat. Julia Child liked it when “It’s so beautifully arranged on the plate – you know someone’s fingers have been all over it.” That’s what you’re going for here.
For fruits, think of the most attractive way to present it. The cross-sections of figs are beautiful so I cut mine in half. And for the strawberries I cut them in slices almost all the way to the stem and then fanned them out. Grapes can be in small clusters of about 5 grapes each. You don’t want to pull all the grapes off the stem like you’re making a fruit salad. Save slicing your pears and apples for last so they don’t start to brown.
Setting the mood for your wine and cheese date night
TVs off, phones down. A wine and cheese date night at home is an opportunity to connect and talk with your sweetie pie. Atmosphere is just as important as the food and wine!
- Lighting — Turn off those overheads. Lamplight and candles are best for a romantic wine and cheese date night!
- Attire — You can wear your clothes from the day (maybe not sweaty gardening clothes) or you can dress up a bit. My sister’s in-laws have a weekly cocktail hour just for the two of them where they dress up in their fancy date-night clothes and have martinis in their living room. I think that’s an awesome idea and it’s on my list. #relationshipgoals
- Music — Put something on that won’t compete with your conversation. Some instrumental jazz or guitar music is perfect. This is the John Coltrane-based Pandora station I thought was perfect.
- Seating — Informal, comfy seating is great. Wine and cheese night to me calls for loungey seating, not a dining room table and upright chairs. Your living room is perfect, or if the weather’s nice, you could hang out on your deck/porch.
You can spend three hours talking and taking your time without worrying about taking up a table for too long or getting uncomfortable in your chairs. And if you have kids? This would be a perfect date night at home after they’ve gone to bed. Even though we love going out to eat, this was one of the nicest and most memorable date nights I think I’ve had!
Don’t hesitate to give this a shot and make a stress-free date night to remember — enjoy your wine and cheese date night at home! What will you put on your charcuterie and cheese board?