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Charcuterie boards are having a moment as a meal-worthy experience or an elegant appetizer. Either way, during these times, boarding at home is creating the opportunity to mindfully place meats, artfully cut fruits and veggies, design contrasting cheeses, and scatter nuts, olives and even cornichons on a wooden surface in the ultimate creative food expression.
Though charcuterie first rose to prominence in 15th century France, meat-and-cheese boards have spiraled into a massive trend on social media, propelling some enthusiasts to the status of “charcuterie influencer.”
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It seems to have started with boardfluencer Marissa Mullen who started posting beautiful charcuterie boards, propelling her to Instagram fame. That later turned into media appearances, collaborations and ultimately a book published in May 2020 called That Cheese Plate Will Change Your Life.
Let’s dial in what charcuterie really is. The French word charcuterie translates to “cooked meats.” Charcuterie is also the name for the specialty shops that curate all things meaty and preserved, such as dried sausages, salamis, bacon, smoked meat, pâté
These boutique meateries have been around for more than 500 years and were prevalent during a time when there was a need to preserve meat when refrigeration did not exist. Charcuterie has a long shelf-life, aging the meat with smoke and salt which gives it more flavor and texture, like a jerky sliced to be very thin.
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So, what goes on a charcuterie board? Prosciutto, also called Parma Ham, is my favorite and a popular option. Made of pork, Prosciutto is cured in salt for a minimum of 12 months, and one Prosciutto master, Cesare Casella has gained global recognition for his process. For a smoked, more peppery option, you can use Speck.
Then there’s the whole Salami family—from Tartufo, soppressata and Salumeria Toscano salami as more luxe options. Genoa, Salame Secchi and Coppa are more affordable options but still delicious. Pepperoni is the most economical and underrated charcuterie, but it can bring a bolder flavor and some spice to your platter. Deli meats, like ham and mortadella are options for a heartier board.
While charcuterie is all about the meat, these boards get bold and beautiful when you add the cheese, olives, nuts and spreads, like fig jam, pesto and seeded mustards. Olive oil and with decent balsamic vinegar makes an acidic and savory dunk for an artisan bread can be tangy and delicious. When traveling through the classic cured meat area of Umbria, Italy, locals there add preserved antipasti vegetables.
While charcuterie is all about the meat, these boards get bold and beautiful when you add the cheese, olives, nuts and spreads, like fig jam, pesto and seeded mustards.
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Start with the hard cheeses which are more approachable, predictable and the easiest to pick up like cheddar, parmesan and comté. Hard cheeses should be about 50 percent of the board. Go for a good cheddar, nothing pre-sliced or pedestrian. Find a selection that is nutty and aged. A nice, reddish, crumbly Leicestershire cheese can add an earthy flavor. For a super-bold cheddar, try an Irish cheese with some punch.
Look next for semi-soft cheeses, like a nice, aged gouda that will have genuine age crystals that pop with flavor and taste similar to a slightly sweet and sharp cheddar. A younger gouda is a semi-soft cheese with a very mild, creamy flavor.
Mild goat cheese is a good idea for your charcuterie board, and drunken goat is soaked in wine. Some goat cheese is formed into logs rolled in herbs, nuts and honey, and dried fruit—always looks pretty, too. Havarti flavored with herbs is another yummy addition. Comté is a bold option, a lot like aged swiss and Alpine cheese has a ton of flavor.
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I tasted a French Blue with aged crystals, and it instantly became something I could crave right now.
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Next add some soft cheeses, like brie, camembert and triple crème. Some dislike the rinds, however it’s actually okay to eat the rind if you like it, adding an earthy flavor. The most decadent choice and my absolute favorite is the beloved triple crème, which is like pure “butta.”
I’ve spent decades not liking blue cheese, and on a virtual cheese tasting with The French Cheese Board last summer, I tasted a French Blue with aged crystals, and it instantly became something I could crave right now. If you want to dip your toe into the shallow end of the pool, start with a Bayley Hazen Blue or a gorgonzola. Roquefort and Stilton are the real-deal blue cheeses.
Now that we’ve toured the world of meat and cheese, how do you put it all together? We talked with three top trending influencers in the world of charcuterie boards, and they shared some of their tops tips for creating beauty on the board.
CYNTHIA BAYSINGER | Modern Brie | @modernbrie
Cynthia Baysinger is the owner and creator of Modern Brie in Gilbert, Arizona. It all started with a huge passion for entertaining and cheese in 2016 that turned into the launch of Modern Brie in April of 2020. Baysinger also works full-time in financial sales, iso you are lucky to catch one of her limited workshops on charcuterie boards. Baysinger offers some tips here:
• Always wash and dry produce at least 30 mins prior to building your board, to prevent dry items from getting soggy if they touch.
• Choose two to three main colors to work with and try to place matching colors on opposite sides of the board to create a cohesive look. Monochromatic boards are beautiful, too but make sure to add a pop of another color to break it up.
• Cheese should be served at room temperature for maximum flavor. Remove your board from the fridge 20 to 30 minutes before serving.
• Select one type of cheese from each texture family—soft, semi-firm, hard.
• Don’t forget to garnish with something green.
KELSEY HEIMERL |The Board Loon | @theboardloon
Kelsey Heimerl, founder of The Board Loon, is based in Hudson, Wisconsin. She started as a leasing agent and created charcuterie boards for the events she hosted. Eventually it led to her own business selling her charcuterie boards. After a weekend with friends, the drive home produced a brainstorming session that resulted in a name. The word board was obvious, and the word loon was inspired by her love the Northwoods. The Board Loon was hatched. Heimerl was kind to share her tips here:
• Vintage and resale shops are a great place to find interesting boards and ramekins.
• Serve cheese at room temperature.
• Make sure to not put like colors next to each other.
• Put wet items—olives, roasted peppers and mozzarella balls—in ramekins to keep liquids contained.
• Use cookie cutters to cut cheese to be seasonally festive.
LEA DIXON | The Platter Girl | @the_platter_girl
Lea Dixon, creator of The Platter Girl is based in Portland, Oregon and loves bringing cheesy, grazy goodness to your events. When she isn’t plattering, posting on Instagram or leading Eat Beautifully workshops, she’s with her husband and children exploring the Oregon coast. Dixon says she’s a graduate of the Culinary Institute of the Food Network and shares her charcuterie board ideas and tips here:
• Shop thoughtfully; think sweet, salty, crunchy and smooth.
• Decide if where your food comes from is important to you, and then shop consciously.
• Choose the right board; find out what kind of wood inspires you.
• Roll meats into roses or fold/poke onto skewers for height.
• Garnish your beautiful board by tucking in rosemary sprigs in gaps or place sage on top of cheeses.
• Edible/non-toxic flowers add color and elevate your board.
• Don’t be afraid to add conversation-starting items that everyone is secretly craving like yogurt covered pretzels and artisanal chocolate.
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