There’s no doubt, cheese boards and charcuterie are a culinary trend these days. Almost every event I cater or attend, features some form of this crowd pleasing combination; meat, cheese, cracker/chip and dip on a board. I’ve had multiple requests for guidance when it comes to creating your own display so I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain my thought process and how I put together an eye catching, mouthwatering presentation!
The Board; foundation is key! You want to make sure you choose a board or platter that meets the functionality of your engagement. For example, I often use a 14″ round wooden board that rests on a Lazy Susan. I prefer round, edgeless boards (especially ones that spin) not only because I find them more visually appealing, but also because they allow for ease when serving. In addition to form, you want your board to have function. Boards that spin are fabulous because no matter where your guests sit they can reach for what they want. However, a rectangular board with shallow sides and handles can also be functional if say, you plan on cruising around your party board in hand, serving your guests. Truly, it’s all about personal preference here while keeping in mind the board itself shouldn’t be the center of attention (it’s going to get covered anyway), your food should be!
Cheese, please! I usually feature two or three favorite cheeses per board. I like to go with cheeses that are universally well received like Manchego, Brie or sharp cheddar. If I know my audience has specific preferences I might feature something special like Stilton blue cheese or perhaps a truffled goat cheese. Again, there are no restrictions or limits here. My only words of wisdom are to pre-cut the hard cheeses so they are easy to grab and to place the soft cheeses that require a knife in an area on the board where there’s room to maneuver.
We have the Meats! I’m no expert when it comes to charcuterie so I rely heavily the pre-packaged meat selections I find at my grocery store. Stores like Trader Joe’s actually arrange sliced cured meats in trios, tapas style, doing all the pairing for you! When in doubt, play it safe and like cheese, select 2, maybe 3 meat varieties. Prosciutto is always a crowd favorite as is salami and smoked sausage. I like to roll meat like prosciutto into tubes for easy grabbing and/or slice meats like sausage, ahead of time.
Spreads/Dips. Every board needs a few of these not just for the guests who maybe don’t like cheese or eat meat, but to add to the variety. I almost always have hummus on hand as well as some kind of a fruit spread like fig jam. Picky guests can use a cracker to enjoy these treats even if they don’t care for anything else on your board or if they’re adventurous they may pair a slice of cheese with some jam! Most people love the combination of something salty with something sweet!
Fruits/Veggies. Same holds true here; I typically feature red grapes and green apples because they’re easy, pleasing and don’t make a mess. I’ll take a bunch of grapes and use a kitchen scissor to trim it into several smaller bunches so people can grab one and get a few grapes at a time (I don’t have the patience to remove all the grapes from a bunch and place them around the board, plus they roll!). I prefer to serve sturdy veggies like cucumber slices or carrot sticks as well as red and green peppers. It’s nice to offer veggies that crunch but also hold up to dipping.
Extra, Extra! Nuts and chocolate aren’t necessary but always welcome on a cheese and charcuterie board. Almonds and shelled pistachios are great choices as are pecan and walnut halves. I never put milk chocolate on a board, only dark. I feel like dark chocolate offers a more subtle compliment. I’ve also been known to combine the two by placing a small bowl of trail mix somewhere on the board.
Placement. So once you’ve gathered all your ingredients, it’s time to set up your board. I start by taking anything in a container or vessel (like humus or jam) and spacing them out on the board. From there I continue to fill in the empty space starting with food items that will take up the most space by adding one item at a time taking care to spread things out and not group similar items together (i.e. don’t put all the cheese together or put all the meat on one side). As the board fills, I use smaller items like grape clusters or nuts to fill in any voids. I usually add the crackers last and find room for them wherever I can (most often along the edges). The point is, there is no point! It’s your creation and you can design the layout of your board however you wish. Foods should touch if not overlap each other and your board should take on a look of casual elegance.
More to consider…
- endive leaves
- pear slices
- marcona almonds
- dried apricots
- pretzel chips
- bread sticks
- sliced baguette