Exploring the bounty of boards can be fun

January 27, 2023
Whether a cheese board, butter board or charcuterie board, these one-plate appetizer dishes are all the rage. By way of definition, a charcuterie board is a wooden or stone platter on which you will find an array of smoked meats, cheeses, nuts, fruit, crackers, jam, olives – all finger foods arranged into colorful abundance for an easy party spread.
The cheese board in the photo has three elegant cheeses: Somerdale Wensleydale, Capricho de cabra and my favorite cheese, Fromager d’affinois. These are accompanied by crackers, olives, fig spread, hummus and marinated artichokes. Unlike many of the examples seen on the internet, this one leaves some room between the items instead of cramming them closely together, which makes partaking difficult.
If you aren’t familiar with these cheeses, here are some of their unique qualities. Somerdale Wensleydale is a British-made, white, cow’s milk cheese, here studded with ruby-colored cranberries, a common presentation. With a moist and crumbly texture, it’s ideal to serve with fruit for your dessert course. The Capricho de capra is a rich goat cheese from Spain. Its creamy texture is perfectly suited to the contrast provided by a coating of fine herbs.
While it may resemble brie in appearance, Fromager d’affinois has a sweet, mild flavor, much lighter than the mushroom-like earthiness characteristic of its familiar cousin. We have seen ripe brie spread slightly, but Fromager d’affinois can barely be contained within its plastic wrap at the cheese counter. This memorable French cheese is made with a process known as ultrafiltration, which removes water from the milk, concentrating the flavor and allowing the wheels to be ready in two weeks rather than two months.
The most unusual of these three types of boards is the TikTok phenomenon known as butter boards. Exactly as the name suggests, these consist of a wooden cutting board that is spread lavishly with softened butter, topped with spices, seeds, fruits, jam and pretty much anything you can imagine. Toasted baguette slices or crackers are used to scoop up the butter and its accompaniments – not the most sanitary dining practice.
In fact, several foodie websites, recipe bloggers and culture mavens are warning about the potential bacteria you might collect from the cracks and crevices in the wooden board, let alone the hazards of double or triple dipping as diners drag their bread or crackers through the butter. As you may imagine, this trend has expanded to feature peanut butter boards, cream cheese boards and goat cheese boards.  
On a recent episode of “America’s Test Kitchen,” a cooking competition show, the contestants were challenged to design charcuterie boards for a range of occasions, including date night, a black-tie party, family movie night and a gender-reveal announcement. If you’d like inspiration, these are a lovely collection of ideas, but the rules required that two of the dishes be cooked, the very antithesis of the ready-to-eat tradition of the charcuterie board. 
For guidance on how to arrange the various items in a pleasing fashion, you can check the website Etsy (, where you can download a template (not an etched wooden board, as one dissatisfied consumer complained). Cutting boards with designated spots for charcuterie items are available via several specialty shops online. As you approach the layout, consider dividing the base into quadrants to create a balanced presentation.
Stage the board with empty containers and utensils so you can see how everything will look ahead of time, and make sure you have enough bowls, forks and knives to go around. Here’s a way to employ those cute little bowls and ramekins. Use sticky notes to help you plot out where each item should be placed. The following list features some basic guidelines for an attractive, delicious charcuterie board.
Meat - Plan on 1 to 2 ounces per person; thinly slice and roll into tubes or fold into triangles; for large slices, cut them in halves or quarters; choose salami, Serrano ham, prosciutto or speck. Select items that are moist and pink, not dry or cracked.
Cheese - Choose a variety of textures: soft brie, semi-soft Muenster, hard Asiago. Thinly slice or crumble into chunks; otherwise, place a cheese knife for each different block of cheese. 
Bites & Bits - Bread or crackers – make sure there’s enough for everyone. A sliced and toasted baguette will go a long way. Stage bunches of grapes, olives, dried apricots, cornichons and nuts. Add small dishes of jams and mustard. Make sure there are both sweet and savory options. Provide picks or spreaders as needed.
Vegetables - Consider baby carrots, sliced radishes and cherry tomato halves that can be dipped into creamy hummus or Boursin cheese spread.
No matter the contents of your charcuterie board or cheese board and the way the items are arranged, this is an easy dish for your next get-together.

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