The best thing about charcuterie? There's no cooking required (and, usually, minimal slicing and dicing)! You're really just arranging cured meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables in a way that encourages snacking, mixing and matching flavors and textures. It's the ultimate power move for non-cooks who still want to entertain elegantly.
The other best thing is that while there are guidelines – see below – there are no real rules. Go as splashy or as restrained as makes sense for your gathering; lean to the sweet and creamy or the sharp and salty as your tastes lead you.
You can even skip the board altogether, like our charcuterie spirit guide Haley Stephens, whose work is pictured here and on our Dec. 4 cover. Stephens is an Orlandoan transplanted to Batesville, Arkansas, where she and her artist husband Brice now run the Pinto Coffee & Comida, a java-and-taco joint with strong Stardust Video & Coffee vibes.
"I host a farm-to-table dinner every year, and this year the board asked me to create something for appetizers," Stephens says. "This is what I did! It was fun and delicious; also it photographed beautifully."
Rule No. 1: For weeks leading up to the event, Stephens searched Pinterest for ideas to get a feel for how she wanted the tables to look.
"I did the best I could sourcing locally, which was a challenge since there isn't a charcuterie or butcher around that cures meats," she says. "[So] I purchased some of the meats from Sam's Club. Totally not farm-to-table but, when in Rome ..." she shrugs. (That's Rule No. 2: Don't sweat the details; nothing in life is 100 percent pure.) "I was fortunate to source some local cheeses from a goat farm and I have some friends that make their own smoked venison sausage. We used fresh-baked breads that my friends and I made. I made hummus, pesto, and a girlfriend of mine made little cheese crackers."
"When assembling the table I didn't think about placement at all," Stephens continues. "It was very organic. A friend of mine made the beautiful cheese board tables and I covered them with Saran to protect the food and the table. There was a line of people bringing me platters and dishes and I just went for it. It happened so fast and it just flowed.
"I want to do this over and over," Stephens laughs, "it's so beautiful!" We agree. For those less naturally blessed with charcu-talent, who fear the setup might not "just flow," our guidelines for choosing and arranging your own spread are below.
Draft the players carefully.
Cheeses: The rule of thumb is one cow, one sheep and one goat. But rules were meant to be broken, right? Buy what you like. If you're stumped, a good cheesemonger can help.
Cured meats: There are a bevy to choose from. Some faves: Genoa salami, mortadella, capicola and prosciutto. You might also try slices of pâté en croûte or rillettes (usually pork or duck), which generally come in a cute jar.
Spreads: A couple of little ramekins full of interesting jams or honeys add the sweetness and acidity those fatty, unctuous cured meats and cheeses really need to sing.
Crunchy things: These usually work as the vehicle for the cheeses, meats and spreads. Whether you choose crackers or veggies, stick with neutral flavors that won't overwhelm or compete with what you've already got going on. Nuts are also a great option; bonus points for toasting them first.
Flavor bombs: Think olives, pickled peppers, giardiniera, cornichons, caper berries; one big flavor working as an excellent palate cleanser in preparation for the next bite. Just go easy on the spice. You're looking for flavor, not total tastebud annihilation.
Choose your canvas.
There are a ton of options here, and you should consider non-servingware, too. Scout out a countertop supplier and look for scraps of granite, quartz, marble or butcher block. Some housewares stores sell beautiful mother-of-pearl, metal or wooden coffee-table trays. Think outside the porcelain platter, but be sure to choose a vessel proportionate to the number and volume of ingredients you'll be including on the board.
Arrange and rearrange.
Start with the cheeses. Place them on opposite sides or corners of your board. Then place any spreads or flavor bombs you have in ramekins adjacent to the cheese. Symmetry is not necessary, but it is more pleasing to the eye. Fan out slices or rolls of cured meats to line the borders of the cheese wheels or ramekins. From there, fill the remaining space with crackers or sliced veggies.
Ready, set, curate.
When it comes to grazing boards, there's a balance to strike. It should look attractive without being intimidating – none of that "too beautiful to eat" stuff, OK? – and plentiful without looking cluttered and incohesive. Just remember to take a picture before anyone dives in; this beauty is ephemeral.
– This story appears in the Dec. 3, 2019, print issue of Orlando Weekly. Stay on top of Central Florida news and views with our weekly Headlines newsletter.