Party on a Platter

Charcuterie boards are shareable, infinitely adaptable, and camera-ready.

Tyler Darden

(Photography by Tyler Darden)

The bites we crave when sipping have been elevated to new heights, thanks to the proliferation of kaleidoscopic charcuterie “grazing boards” (remember when they were meat and cheese platters?). These artful arrangements now outpace restaurant #foodporn on social media.

“It hit quick,” says Emmie Lewis, who owns RVA Cheese Girl. “When I started in March of 2020, I was the only one doing this. A year later there were 18 others just in Richmond.” The trend grew out of the spike in stay-at-home socializing in 2020, when home cooks suddenly had plenty of time to create elaborately patterned platters using cured meats, cheeses, fruits, olives, spreads, nuts—and whatever else they had on hand.

Now, these “adult Lunchables”—as Business Insider dubbed them—have spawned a subset of charcuterie (pronounced “shar-ku-tuh-ree”) purveyors: There are caterers, like The Cornichon in Ashburn, and wedding specialists like The Honey Brie in Virginia Beach. Restaurants like Grisette, in Richmond, are built on a charcuterie-and-cheese concept. Small shops like Long Board Charcuterie in Virginia Beach sell not just premade boards and ingredients, but picnic accessories. There are even food trucks, like Graze Charcuterie in Hampton and Kass and Cure Board Co. in Charlottesville, which make the rounds from wineries to local festivals and backyard events.

Hosts can buy ingredients and create a board, purchase one ready-made, or order one online from companies like Boundless Boards in Wytheville. Partying solo? Lewis, of RVA Cheese Girl, makes single-serving charcuterie “cones.”

Today, grazing boards are a low-stress way to entertain. The food can be prepared in advance and keeps perfectly at room temperature. Hosts can even order individual tasting boards if guests don’t want to share. And, of course, everyone takes pictures. It’s this visual “wow” factor that’s driven their popularity: “The generation that grew up on social media is now of hosting age,” says Katie Huger, who owns Long Board.

None of this is new, of course. In 15th-century France, local charcutiers produced a range of dried, salted, or cooked meats, rillettes, and pates, which varied by region. Italians, too, contributed a spectacular assortment of cured meats—prosciutto, pancetta, and soppressata—both pairing them with the world’s best wines.

A successful charcuterie board is a work of art, says Huger. “If you really want it to be beautiful, practice,” she advises. “The more you do it, the better you’re going to get.”

Here, we offer a paint-by-numbers guide to building a gorgeous charcuterie board with a tempting mix of ingredients that invites guests to mix and match, creating new flavors with every bite.

1. Sketch in the underlying structure

Start with one to three cured meats and one to three cheeses in a mix of flavors, textures, shapes, and sizes. For example, the silkiness of mild prosciutto contrasts well with spicy dry-aged salami, or large slices of pale capicola with small circles of dark red pepperoni.

For cheeses, a soft brie works well with a firm aged gouda or stout wedge of aged parmesan. Selecting a mix of goat, cow, and sheep’s milk cheese also builds in flavor variety.

Arrange these in lines or groups on the board in a balanced format, leaving gaps. In general, slice the meats and harder cheeses, leaving softer cheeses intact, and experiment with folding or rolling larger slices of meat.

(Pro Tip: take photos as you go to get a clear perspective of the arrangement.)

2. Fill the outline with color and texture

Dab in dots and blocks of color. Citrus segments, berries, figs, grapes, dried apricots, olives, shelled pistachios, and pickled vegetables all introduce fresh colors, flavors, and textures. Slice or cut ingredients into bite-sized servings and cut grape stems to create small bunches.

Splash on mustards, preserves, or honeycomb—firm condiments directly on the board, runny ones nestled into small containers. Got a holiday gift jam or chutney buried in the cabinet? Open and add it to the mix.

(Pro Tip: aim to include something sweet, something, spicy, and something sour.)

3. Dot the masterpiece with final highlights

Time to accessorize. Set out a companion plate or basket of crackers and breads (keep the flavors simple so they won’t compete with board ingredients). Add small knives, spreaders, spoons, and picks as needed, and include a waste bowl for pits, stems, rinds, and peels.

If desired, top cheeses with edible flower petals like marigolds, nasturtium, or violets. You can also add a few herb sprigs like dill, fennel, basil, rosemary, or chives. Serve with a stack of small plates, if desired, and plenty of napkins!

(Pro Tip: prep any extra meats and leave extra cheeses at room temperature to replenish the boards as needed.)

When it comes to charcuterie boards, practice makes perfect. Invite friends over to help you develop this new skill—fortunately, any artistic “mistakes” are tasty.

“The Graze Cone”
Tyler Darden

(Photography by Tyler Darden)

A grazing board is a creative way to showcase Virginia’s deep farming history. Consider featuring a few of these local ingredients at your next gathering, along with a Virginia wine.

This article originally appeared in the December 2021 issue.

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