by Angela Peterson
With summer just around the corner, I am ready to spend some quality time outside in the sunshine and warmth! Whether you are entertaining all of your besties with small bites and cocktails or just sitting under the stars with the love of your life and a glass of wine, a charcuterie board is the perfect accompaniment! Here are some easy rules to make a stunning charcuterie and cheese board every time.
Be sure to have lots of variety! Variety is important when it comes to color, texture, flavor, and fat content. You probably don’t want the entire board to be four different kinds of heavy meats and cheese.
First, you’ll want to choose your board. You don’t have to select anything fancy. After all, it’s going to be covered in food! I prefer to use my thick wooden cutting boards. They are rather large, sturdy as all get-out, and are pretty as the food disappears and more of the board shows.
Next, we choose our food items! Depending on the size of your party, you can include:
• Dried Fruits
• Crackers and Breads
• Mustards, jams, dips
Meats and cheeses tend to be heavy and sometimes creamy. You can balance that out by adding fresh fruits, mustards, olives, and pickles that will add some acidity to your board and act as a palette cleanser. Dried fruits, nuts, and crackers add texture to your board, as well as some more complex flavors. Jams, honey, and dried fruits also add some sweetness to your board that can help keep the flavor profile interesting. If you really want to make it fun, you can add spice by adding spiced nuts, pepper jellies, or spicy pickles!
Utilize small bowls for items that tend to roll around like nuts, mozzarella balls, dried fruits, etc., as well as to add some interesting shapes to your board. They also give you some structure that allows you to stack other items around them.
You can add visual texture by cutting your cheeses in different ways. Some can be cubes, slices, wedges, or crumbles. Meats can be fanned out, rolled up, or folded and placed with their edges facing up.
Use the fresh fruits, olives, and dips to add some much-needed color to your board. Meats and cheeses are great but tend to be pretty monochromatic when that’s all there is on the plate.
Generally, I place the bowls first, then the meats and cheese as they are the main food items, and then fill in the gaps with the other items. It sounds a little complicated, but I think once you have a few items on your board, you start to have your own opinions about how to lay things out.
One of my favorite non-traditional charcuterie board items is a savory cheesecake. Here is an easy recipe that will leave your guests begging for more!
Note: I use a 4-inch springform pan to bake these in.
1 1/4 c herbed cracker crumbs or panko crumbs
8 TBL unsalted butter (melted)
2 TBL minced pecans
Combine the three ingredients in a bowl and mix until they are evenly hydrated, then press them into the base of your pan. Make it as even as you can so that it will bake evenly. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Allow to cool completely before adding your filling.
1 lb cream cheese
1/4 c onions
1 tsp rosemary
1 1/2 oz dried figs (chopped)
1/2 tsp lavender
1 oz honey
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease your baking pan. Place the cream cheese in your electric mixer and cream using the paddle attachment until it is completely smooth. Add the eggs and mix until smooth again; mix as little as possible. Fold in the remaining ingredients and pour the mixture into the pan. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 1 hr. The center of your cheesecake should still have some wiggle to it, but the edges should be firm. If you aren’t sure if your cheesecake is done baking, you can use a quick read thermometer to check the internal temperature. You’ll want to check the very center of your cheesecake, and it should read 150 degrees. Allow to cool completely before removing it from the pan and serving.
Angela has worked for a number of celebrated chefs in the Boston area, including James Beard-awarded chef Jody Adams at Trade, and under two-time Food Network finalist Joshua Livsey at Harvest. She then became the Pastry Chef at Catalyst Restaurant and then at Fox & the Knife under James Beard-awarded Chef Karen Akunowicz. She now owns her own local donut bakery, Colorado Shield Maiden. coloradoshieldmaiden.com