With the popularity of charcuterie boards for both personal snacking and entertaining rising, more and more people are jumping on the meat and cheese snack train. From simple round oroval platters and rectangular trays to handmade designs cut from a round of wood and ornate options complete with internal storage, charcuterie boards run the gamut from basic cutting boards to elaborate butcher blocks and come in numerous sizes to suit your needs.
The one thing they all have in common, however, is the need for a food-safe finish that easily withstands your level of use.
What Are Charcuterie Boards?
Charcuterie boards are platters filled with a complement of cured meats, cheeses, and spreads plus crackers, nuts, and fruit, making them perfect for snacking at dinner parties, book clubs, and intimate gatherings with friends and family. Typically served on high-quality wood, some charcuterie boards even include olives and dark chocolates to round out the flavor profile. Smaller options offer a fun way to jazz up couples’ snacks for movie night as well.
Originally conceived in Europe over 500 years ago, charcuterie boards showcased meats cured with salt and spices, so many enthusiasts keep to this basic concept, avoiding modern nitrate-laden meats. Common meats used on charcuterie boards include prosciutto, salami, pepperoni, summer sausage and Iberian ham. Likewise, these snack platters typically boast hard cheeses like Parmesan chunks and asiago, firm cheeses like Colby and cheddar, and softer options like mascarpone and Havarti.
Charcuterie board arrangements vary from simple lines of meat and cheese on a butcher block surrounded by nuts and fruit to elaborately placed elements on stylized wood platters designed to make both a visual and a culinary impact. Regardless of how you arrange the entire surface of your charcuterie board or the foods you use on it, though, you need a food-safe finish that holds up well to your level of use and allows fuss-free cleanup.
Best Finish for Wood Charcuterie Boards
Whether you made your charcuterie board or bought a brand new board from someone else, you need a good finish for it that’s considered food-safe, even if just to maintain it over time. The following options line out the best finishes, provide the pros and cons of each one and ensure you know what to avoid when you want tokeep your wooden boards safe to use and looking their best.
If you want to know how to seal a wood charcuterie board, the top option is Wood Wax by the Real Milk Paint Co. This food contact-safe wax has an all-natural formulation of walnut oil and carnauba wax, helping it penetrate deeply yet apply smoothly on your wood charcuterie board. Wood Wax contains no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), so you can use it in spaces without much ventilation, and it also has no mineral oil or solvents for additional food safety.
Besides Wood Wax’s eco-friendliness and vegan-friendly formulation, Wood Wax helps your charcuterie board stand the test of time by conferring excellent water resistance to the wood surface while protecting against knife marks, scratches and abrasions. Wood Wax does, however, require maintenance from time to time, but a 4-ounce container covers 35 square feet, providing an ample amount for aftercare when you finish your charcuterie board with this medium. Surfaces covered with Wood Wax take between 5 and 7 days to cure for light use and 15 to 30 days for full curing.
Pure Tung Oil
Pure Tung Oil ranks high on the list when you want to know how to treat wood charcuterie boards. Also known as chinawood oil, this all-natural finishing oil is FDA approved for food contact and contains no VOCs, heavy metals, additives or distillates for added peace of mind. Pure Tung Oil penetrates deeply into wood without building up or adding a glossy finish, keeping your wooden boards looking natural while enhancing their grain. This medium lends excellent water and scratch resistance to protect your piece, even with heavy use.
One downside to Pure Tung Oil is that it usually requires thinning with our Citrus Solvent for smooth application. Like the oil itself, however, the solvent has a natural formulation with no VOCs for food safety. For this reason, we offer Half & Half — a product that utilizes half Pure Tung Oil and half Citrus Solvent for easy finishing right out of the bottle. If you prefer a darker look, try our Dark Tung Oil or premixed Dark Half options. Keep in mind that this polymerizing finish takes between 7 and 10 days to partially cure and 15 to 30 days for a full cure when planning your charcuterie board projects.
Though typically not as durable or water-resistant as Wood Wax or Pure Tung Oil formulations, all-natural Hemp Oil offers a hypoallergenic finish for wood charcuterie boards that you don’t
use that often. Other benefits of Hemp Oil include a naturally thin viscosity that requires no thinning for smooth, even application and a formulation free of VOCs, solvents and distillates. Designed to penetrate wood deeply, this oil finish works great on both bare and already-finished wood. Partial curing times are between 7 and 10 days, while a full cure typically takes 15 to 30 days.
Linseed oil is often used to finish wood charcuterie boards, but though this finish has its benefits, it also has its downsides. Made from flax seeds, this finish comes in raw linseed oil and boiled linseed oil formats, so you need to be careful to choose the raw version for its food safety. Advantages to using linseed oil for your wooden boards include protection from scratches, dents and water plus a formulation that showcases wood grain in its best light. Nontoxic and eco-friendly, this finish penetrates well and applies smoothly.
The disadvantages of using raw linseed oil to finish wood charcuterie boards, however, outweigh the benefits. Over time, this finish tends to darken, and it also tends to bleed out of wood pores during extreme changes in temperature and humidity. Additionally, linseed oil doesn’t provide the hard coat protection of Wood Wax or Pure Tung Oil, leaving your wooden boards vulnerable to water rings, staining when exposed to colored liquid and more severe knife marks, scratches and abrasions.
Food-grade mineral oil may seem like a good option when you want to know how to seal your wood charcuterie board, but it typically isn’t. The advantages of a mineral oil finish are its ready availability, smooth application and even flow.
Mineral Oil disadvantages include lack of durability and scratch protection plus poor water resistance. Additionally, cutting boards treated with mineral oil may take on a dry, dusty look if you don’t maintain them often. Some woodworkers avoid a mineral oil finish, even though it’s food-safe, due to it deriving from petroleum distillates, which makes it a less environmentally friendly option than many other wood charcuterie board finishes, such as Linseed Oil, Hemp Oil, Pure Tung Oil, Wood Wax and Beeswax.
Beeswax is an all-natural finish derived from honeybees, so it’s considered food-safe by virtue of its origin. Keep in mind, however, that though it’s nontoxic and eco-friendly, food-grade beeswax isn’t all that durable. Additionally, a beeswax wood charcuterie board finish incurs heat damage easily, doesn’t provide good water resistance and is vulnerable to knife marks and scratches. Beeswax finish also requires frequent reapplication to keep your cutting boards looking good over time.
Coconut oil is safe for food and makes a decent finish for wood charcuterie boards so long as you get the refractionated variety, since exposure to air can turn regular coconut oil rancid. A coconut oil finish, however, isn’t very durable or protective, making it a poor choice for cutting boards.
Maintaining Wood Charcuterie Boards
To get the most use out of your wood charcuterie board after finishing it, you need to clean and maintain it properly. For example, baking soda sprinkled on, wet and wiped off can help remove stains, and a fresh lemon rubbed on the wood surface helps oxidize organic material left behind to remove smells and stains. A quick wipe-down from time to time with the finish you used on your wood charcuterie board helps keep it looking lustrous and brings it back to its original matte state.
Keep in mind that cleaning solvents aren’t good choices for maintaining charcuterie boards as they can seep into the pores and spoil your finish plus leave behind noxious chemicals. Additionally, never use alcohol to clean your butcher block or cutting board as it dries out the wood surface and leaves the material vulnerable to drying and cracking. If you must sterilize your charcuterie board, use diluted bleach plus soap and water instead to help preserve the finish.
Charcuterie boards bring elegance to everyday snacking and make it simple to impress guests, whether you’re having an impromptu gathering or a larger planned event. Part of the appeal of these platters is the visual design, making your board finish an important part of the ritual. Use this list to help when you want to know how to treat wood charcuterie boards the right way and maintain them over time.