The French originally served charcuterie before the main meal, as an elegant appetizer or first course, but they have become so popular that they are now served at almost any time in the meal, or even as the main course.
The charcuterie board itself is often handmade and is most often made of wood, slate, or marble. My favorite board is relatively small (although there are no rules on size), maybe eight inches by twelve inches. I found a beautiful piece of mahogany in the lumber yard, sanded it down very finely, and then put several coats of varnish on it. It really is lovely. If you want something similar, look for a hand-carved wooden board, but do remember wood requires some maintenance (mainly just keeping it clean and well-oiled).
A charcuterie board, loaded with delicious snacks, is very flexible in many ways. It can be quite small, like mine, or large enough to almost fill the table, depending on how many people are coming to dine and how much food you want to serve. It can be served at any time of the day and can be inexpensive or quite expensive.
You can put anything you like on a characterize board, but the basic rule (suggestion, really) is three meats, three cheeses, three stitches and encampments, like fruit, nuts, or vegetables. The board may be composed of many things, such as forcemeats (generally a mixture of ground meats emulsified with fat), sausages, emulsified sausages, like pate, terrines, galantine, and roulade, salt-cured and brined products. Cheese is almost always included, and there of course dozens to choose from (France claims to make over 1,200 varieties). Other things you might consider are fruits like grapes, plums, strawberries, pairs, a good crusty loaf of pre-sliced bread (my favorite comes from Henry’s Bakery and Café in D’Iberville), and a nice block of good butter.
If you are a novice, go to Rouses and find their cold-cut section. Rouses now carries Boar’s Head products and probably has the best selection around. Four Bulls in Ocean Springs is also good.
It’s best to have a theme in mind, like an Italian assortment of cold cuts, cheeses, and panino, served with Italian wines. An American-themed board might have country ham, boudin, a few Wisconsin cheeses, and small, toasted cheese sandwiches, all served with iced tea and a slice of lemon.
Again, there are no rules, but a little method behind the madness is a good thing.