I'm a sucker for a great charcuterie or cheese board. If its on a local menu, there's a good chance I'll start with it. And if I'm entertaining at home but too lazy to cook, there's a 100% chance I'm making one.

After a few failed attempts at putting together a solid offering, I started taking notes and doing research. What makes an amazing, balanced charcuterie and cheese board? How do you know what to shop for? How much prosciutto will fit in my mouth?

Friends, I've cracked the code. I've come up with a simple formula that makes shopping and assembling a breeze. Entertaining a crowd? This will do it. Heading up to Paso to wine taste? Hit the store, throw it in the Yeti and you're covered. All you have to remember are five numbers. In descending order. Plus some words.

Here it is. The 5-4-3-2-1 method. Five cheeses. Four meats. Three fruits and/or nuts. Two pickled or brined things. One bread or cracker.

5 Cheeses

Pick five cheese varying in softness, milk type (cow, goat, and sheep), and flavor. You don't have to spend a lot but buy real cheese. Pre-sliced cracker cuts are out. Save the Tillamook cheddar hamburger night. American cheese? Your millennial guests will hate it. That being said, here's some ideas:

  • A soft cheese such brie or camembert
  • A strong blue cheese such as gorgonzola or stilton
  • An aged cheddar or comte
  • A firmer cheese such as mimolette or manchego
  • A fresh goat cheese
  • A mild fontina cheese

Pick five. Go for variety. Great job, you're on your way.

4 Meats

Now time for the charcuterie. The meat. You're gonna select 4 different ones. Stay away from oven roasted turkey lunch meat. Cured sausages, smoked fish, and high-quality full muscle cuts are where it's at. Just trust me and pick four from the following:

  • Prosciutto
  • Pepperoni
  • Chorizo
  • Ibérico ham
  • Soppressata
  • Speck
  • Smoked salmon
  • Capicola
  • A pâté or terrine

3 Fruits & nuts

Now let's add some sweetness. For your ultimate board, you're gonna serve up three things from the fruit and nut category. Stay away from the peanuts and choose fruits that pair well. Jams work here too. Here's some ideas:

  • Almonds
  • Pistachios
  • Grapes
  • Pears
  • Fuyu persimmons (in the Fall)
  • Figs
  • Dates
  • Jam

2 Pickled & brined things

Gonna need that acid to go with the salt and fat of your meat and cheese. So the next step is to add some pickled or brined things to your board. Olives likely to be one of the two–but its not a requirement. Choose from:

  • Olives
  • Cornichons
  • Marinated artichoke hearts
  • Pickled vegetables (carrots, beets, cauliflower, etc.)

1 Bread or wildcard

Alright, you made it. Down to number one. If you want to play it safe, go with a nice baguette or some fine crackers. But, if you're cutting the carbs or feeling frisky, use your number 1 for a wildcard. Honeycomb. Popcorn. Deviled or soft boiled eggs. They all play.

There you have it. So easy to remember, you don't even need a shopping list.