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.