Taylor Dick­erson crafts a fall char­cu­terie board. Courtesy | Taylor Dick­erson

It’s dif­ficult to imagine any gath­ering nowadays without some sort of arrangement of cheese, meats, crackers, fruit, or nuts — the char­cu­terie board.

Most people use the word “char­cu­terie” inter­changeably with cheese boards, yet the French word actually means “cold cuts,” or “del­i­catessen” in ref­erence to meats. When cre­ating a char­cu­terie board, both ele­ments are essential.

“Char­cu­terie platters have been a staple of catering events for as long as I can remember, whether it’s called a meat and cheese platter, char­cu­terie board, or selection of arti­sanal salami,” General Manager of Bon Appetit Catering Dave Apthorpe said. 

Apthorpe said all that’s really changed is what people call it.

“I’m not sure the pop­u­larity of an array of cured meats and selected cheeses has increased, espe­cially in a catered setting, but I think the word ‘char­cu­terie’ is a new addition to the American diner’s lexicon,” Apthorpe said, “Part of the awareness probably comes from the preva­lence of these items on restaurant menus. The 2000s really saw a lot of chefs dig into char­cu­terie, essen­tially a way of pre­serving meat, be it through sausage-making, pate, ter­rines, ril­lettes, etc.” 

The charm of char­cu­terie boards is that they’re simple: Anyone can arrange one at home. They’re an old gesture of hos­pi­tality easy enough that they’ve become the staple of a younger audience recently.

“The thing about making char­cu­terie boards for a business versus at home is that you can get a lot of dif­ferent kinds of things because you’re making a lot more of them,” Lehman said. “Like if I were to buy five dif­ferent cheeses only to make a cheese board at home that would be expensive, but when pro­viding cus­tomers with variety we have that available.”

Although artisan char­cu­terie boards can become expensive quickly, the basic ele­ments are acces­sible to anyone near a grocery store.

“You want to have lots of crackers — more than you think — meat, cheese, olives or pickles on the side.You want to give people as much variety as you can, like mixing salty with sweet, or a hard cheese with a soft cheese,” Lehman said. “Then we have a fruit and nut mix, with walnuts, cran­berries, cherries, and pumpkin seeds.”

The char­cu­terie board world has also gone sea­sonal, with “secret ingre­dients” setting them apart from the classic meat-and-cheese display.

“I like to add dif­ferent leaves to mine in order to show the dif­ferent seasons, like for my fall char­cu­terie, I used sage, and for the summer, I used thyme,” junior Taylor Dick­erson said. “I use things that match a certain color scheme, so because it’s fall I wanted it to be darker, and used black­berries, caramel instead of honey, and apples and peaches. All of the cheese were also fall-fla­vored, and I used candy corn, caramelized maple nuts, and pumpkin seeds.”

Dick­erson said she used a spicy, maple and pepper jack cheese, sweetened havarti, extra-creamy brie so it could melt faster, and even a cheese with a hint of peanut.

Apthorpe said Bon Appetit uses sea­sonal chutneys and varies its fruit from pears to stone fruit depending on the season.  

Perhaps even more important than its ingre­dients is how a char­cu­terie board is arranged. The pre­sen­tation — an inten­tional beau­tiful mess — is every­thing. 

“We always put our cheese boards on wood or slate, but I think the biggest thing is that we always close every single crack with dried fruit and nuts, and when you do that it looks very pro­fes­sional,” Lehman said. “The more messy it is, the more pro­fes­sional it looks.”

Although many claim the beauty of char­cu­terie is in its lit­tered style, to make the layout look both attractive and undone takes skill.

“When I made my first cheese board I just went to the grocery store and bought some salami and cheese, and it was so bad,” Dick­erson said. “Char­cu­terie boards are very easy to put filters on, but it takes time to make them. I probably spend about 20 to 30 minutes on my char­cu­terie in order to arrange every­thing the way I want it.”

Dick­erson recently put her skills into practice with a table-sized char­cu­terie display at a recent alumnae event for the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. 

“I made the char­cu­teries over the summer, so it was already on my mind, but when I was planning a party for Kappa, my mindset was think big and think dif­ferent,” Dick­erson said. “I wanted to do a char­cu­terie board, but why not make it the runner of the table? So I laid down some plastic wrap, and did it right onto the table.”

Dickerson’s art quickly attracted the attention of other stu­dents on campus.

“A couple of people saw the fall char­cu­terie board I made, and three people inquired if I could do it for their wedding, or another person asked me to do it for their party,” she said.