Though many TikToks these days offer to teach us how to build “a hot chocolate charcuterie board” or “a veggie charcuterie board,” the actual definition of charcuterie is straightforward and singular. Charcuterie is the French term for cured or preserved meat products, such as prosciutto, salami, or pâté. A charcuterie board can, of course, include veggies and cheese and bread — and sure, hot chocolate if you’re feeling festive — but if the board doesn’t feature cured meat, it’s probably just a cheese board.
The good news is that charcuterie can serve as anything from a quick snack to an elegant first course, and there’s a whole world of it to explore. Though most food cultures around the globe have some staple cured meat, most of what we have access to in the United States is from or inspired by France (charcuterie), Italy (salumi), or Spain (charcutería). While chicken, beef, goose, duck, and rabbit all make appearances, pork is often the star of the show. And depending on the breed of pig, its diet, and the curing or preservation method, the final flavor can vary more than you might think.
The specialty food industry generally considers dry cured meats in one of two categories: whole muscle or salami. Whole muscle meats are, as the name suggests, an entire piece of an animal such as a leg, cheek, or belly. Cured simply with salt, air, and time, they generally have a silky texture and buttery flavor.
Salami (a subset of salumi, if you’re in Italy) is meat that’s been ground, salted, stuffed into a casing, and then cured. Regional variations often feature spices and herbs indigenous to the area. The exact composition of the meat — both fat content and where on the animal it’s sourced from — as well as the types of bacteria used to cure the meat also influence the final flavor and texture.
Charcuterie is traditionally served simply, with bread and a few other accompaniments, such as pickles, seasonal fruit, cheese, and mustard. And no charcuterie experience is complete without a perfect glass of wine to pair it with, which brings out the complexity of the cured meat flavors, as well as balancing out the salt and fat.
Keep reading for the best charcuterie and wine pairings.
Whole Muscle Meats
Prosciutto di Parma
Arguably Italy’s most iconic cured meat product, Prosciutto di Parma is a whole cured ham leg. It is also a PDO product, meaning it legally must be made — and cured, and even sliced — in a very specific place and way in order to be called Prosciutto di Parma. Only certain breeds of pig are allowed to be used, including Large White, Landrace, or Dunroc. The pigs are famously fed a very regulated diet, which might include the leftover whey from making Parmigiano Reggiano. Prosciutto di Parma’s saltiness almost verges on ferrous, which perfectly complements the richness of the pork.
If you see something called Prosciutto, it may be a looser take on Prosciutto di Parma, or it may be something totally different, as Prosciutto just means ham in Italian.
Pair it with: Something fruity and lively, such as Prosecco or a pet nat, will help balance Prosciutto di Parma’s saltiness and richness. Lambrusco makes for a classic and delightful “what grows together goes together” pairing.
Think of speck as Prosciutto di Parma’s smoldering cousin from the north, hailing from where Italy borders Austria. Speck marries Italy’s preferred method of meat preservation (curing) with Austria’s go-to method (smoking), resulting in a more robust yet still elegant flavor reminiscent of a campfire on a crisp evening.
Pair it with: Though there are a few different regional versions of speck, the most commonly found version in the U.S. is from Alto Adige, which pairs beautifully with the crystalline, aromatic whites of the same region such as Pinot Grigio, Kerner, Sylvaner, or Gewürztraminer, which bring out the crisp smoky minerality of the speck.
Like Prosciutto di Parma and speck, Jamón Ibérico is the entire cured leg of a pig, but its flavor is noticeably different. This is both due to the breed — only Black Iberian pigs called “Pata Negra” can be used, or ones that are over 50 percent Black Iberian mixed with the Duroc breed — as well as the pig’s specifically acorn-based diet. There are several tiers of Jamón Ibérico, sometimes shortened to Ibérico, with Jamón Ibérico de Bellota at the top. Known for its decadent nutty flavors, it’s famously pricey but unforgettable. Jamón serrano, also from Spain, is a cured Spanish leg of pork from any other breed.
Pair it with: It’s hard to beat a saline manzanilla or nutty oloroso sherry with the silky richness of Jamón Ibérico, but Cava — especially a rosé Cava — or a lighter red like a Rioja Crianza will also do nicely.
Jambon de Bayonne
Of course, France has its own epic, historic whole cured pork leg. This one is called Jambon de Bayonne, hailing from the Pyrenees and cured with the local salt of Salies-de-Bearn. Jambon de Bayonne’s flavor is generally the lightest on its feet within the whole muscle category, with a finish that’s both buttery and umami-rich.
Pair it with: The ethereal nature of Jambon de Bayonne also makes it the most likely to be overwhelmed with a wine pairing. Stick to fruity, dry, almost honeyed whites, like Viogner or Semillon, or try a fresh rosé to bring out the minerality.
Originally from the Italian Alps, Bresaola is the cured top inside round (i.e., the leg and upper thigh) of beef. Part of its curing process includes a rub with various spices, including juniper, nutmeg, and sometimes cinnamon. Bresaola is also noted for its striking magenta, almost purple color.
Pair it with: Bresaola’s more robust flavors make it a tad easier to pair than others on this list. Anything from a lively Prosecco to a plummy Dolcetto to a more earthy Pinot Noir will offset the Bresaola’s resonant flavors.
Though Finocchiona’s fame has led to versions of it being produced throughout the world, it originally comes from Tuscany where wild fennel is abundant. Thus, Finocchiona is flavored with fennel, though today it generally also contains garlic and black pepper.
Pair it with: Sangiovese of any sort, especially Chianti Classico, is a delicious and classic pairing with Finocchiona. In fact, Tuscan red wine has historically been used as a flavoring agent in Finocchiona. Whites like Pinot Grigio and Trebbiano Toscano also bring out its cured pork flavors.
Generally the most easily found French cured sausage, Saucission Sec is flavored simply with garlic and black pepper, allowing the rich cured flavors of the pork to shine.
Though chorizo can refer to a wide range of meats — including uncured Mexican chorizo that you’ll find in your grocery store refrigerated with other ground meats — we’re talking about cured Spanish chorizo, seasoned with garlic and pimentón. Even within Spain, there are dozens of regional variations of chorizo featuring different compositions of pork and with different herbs or spices as flavoring.
Pair it with: The freshness and acidity of Cava, as well as the bubbles, act as a cleansing contrast to the spiced porky nature of chorizo, allowing for continued snacking. A fruity, Garnacha-based rosé or a lime-forward Verdejo will complement the flavors of the pimentón.
Rillettes entail seasoning and cooking shredded meat in a bath of its own fat, much like confit. Much of France’s most famous rillettes originate in the Loire Valley. Pork and duck rillettes are the most commonly available versions in the United States and are usually sold in jars. The final texture is thick yet spreadable, and generally served smeared over baguette.
Pair it with: The crisp, orchard-fruity whites and peppery reds of the Loire Valley make a compelling pairing with rillettes — if you want to soften gamey flavors, go white (especially off-dry Chenin Blanc); if you want to play them up, go red.
Pâté is, broadly, a mixture of ground meat that is then cooked. It might be ground more coarsely, as in the case of Pâté de Campagne, or more to a mousse, as is the case of chicken liver mousse or the famed and controversial Pâté de Foie Gras. Though liver is often an ingredient in pâté, it’s not necessarily included in every option. And if you’re more a fan of poultry than of pork, pâté may be your preferred charcuterie category. While it does often feature pork, there are many chicken, duck, goose, and even rabbit pâtés available. The easiest way to tell the difference between rillettes and pâté is the texture — rillettes is shredded meat, and pâté will either be more of a mousse or a rustic meatloaf-like texture.
Pair it with: A rustic Pinot Noir or Cabernet Franc, especially from the Loire Valley, will bring a sort of forest-y bramble quality to a rustic, coarse pâté. A silky white, from a cooler-climate Chardonnay or a Bordeaux Blanc, can help smooth out more intense organ-meat flavors. More mousse-y pâtés are traditionally paired with sweeter wines, such as Sauternes, but an off-dry sparkler would also do the trick.
Fatty, spiced mortadella has a unique production process, which doesn’t neatly fit it into any of our other categories. Even texture-wise it’s a maverick, landing somewhere between a silky slice of prosciutto and a hearty cut of salami. Maybe that’s part of the charm: It’s a pink, fatty, floppy meat slice that feels both fancy and nostalgic. Regional variations may include pistachios, black pepper, nutmeg, or even myrtle berries.
Pair it with: Fruity and fun is the vibe to channel when pairing with mortadella, as lighter wines allow its subtle porky flavors to shine. Go with a zingy pet-nat, a juicy rosé, or a light and berried red like Beaujolais or Barbera.