– Words and Recipes Ellie Short Photography Don Denton
She surveys her palette: Shades of creamy white, muted reds, earthy browns. She muses on her canvas, a blank backdrop awaiting embellishment. Her tools are her hands, a knife, a spoon. She lets her senses guide her; see, smell … taste. Thoughtfully she makes her first brush stroke – a honeycomb in the middle of dark mahogany. An artistic experience begins. It ends with a soapy sink, full bellies, satisfied smiles and fading laughter in the background.
For anyone who’s ever enjoyed a carefully curated charcuterie board, you’ve been on the receiving end of a sensory endeavor. You marveled at the beauty of simple ingredients, thoughtfully and carefully arranged. You’ve made your own creations with each oddly constructed bite, layering flavors and textures, creating new exciting combinations, and enjoying favorite combinations. You’re committed to collaborative analysis, cultural dissection of discussing ingredient groupings and favorites with your fellow restaurateurs. Visually, in terms of experience and in the truest sense of the word, the sausage board is often the centerpiece and the masterpiece of the evening.
Being the maker behind the chef d’oeuvre, however, is a different practice altogether, and one that adds a delicious layer of creative expression and imaginative indulgence. However, for many, designing a board can feel intimidating. Where to start What get? Which direction to take? These are the usual questions and naturally nervous thoughts of any new artist exploring an uncharted medium.
We’ve all seen hundreds of paintings, but what’s the process? Which colors to choose? Which canvas to buy? Which method should be investigated? As with any art, there is no right or wrong way to make a sausage board. However, if you are looking for a little inspiration to get started, the following may offer some loose guidelines to play with, bearing in mind that with all artwork, both expression and interpretation are subjective and the possibilities are endless.
what you will need
The canvas: While most are traditional and most commonly made out of wood, I’ve seen, curated and enjoyed many good ones Charcuterie on stone slabs, ceramic slabs and even just a simple dinner plate.
The number of people you’re feeding and the ingredients you want to present will dictate the size, and the shape often depends on the subject you’re researching. For example, if you’re looking for a sumptuous appetizer for a country-style feast, try a long and narrow board, almost like an edible table runner.
The palette: If you are new to charcuterie creation and new to or not particularly knowledgeable about cheeses and sausages, I suggest simply exploring the variety of textures. I usually start with a soft cheese (brie, camembert, chevre), add a medium cheese (gouda, compté, fontina) and then a harder cheese (aged cheddar, manchego), plus a pie or terrine, some pancetta or prosciutto and a Kind of salami like Genoa, Felino or Bresaola. Next come the complementary spreads, which may include a tart or grainy mustard, a jam, and honey.
The bases of your choice are also good for structural variety; soft, chewy bread, nutty crackers or classic chips offer something different for every bite.
Last but not least, you’ll probably want to explore some savory garnishes, like the classic side dishes of nuts, olives, gherkins and grapes. I encourage imaginative reflection here, however, and I often find that my most exciting boards unfold when I add kibbles like marinated mushrooms, pickled peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and chewy dates.
The tools: Your hands are obviously your best tools for assembly, but in order to appreciate and enjoy your creation, you and your guests will need a few essential supplies.
While it’s arguably impressive and certainly handy to acquire specific utensils for specific cheeses, your guests will likely be just as happy with a small paring knife to slice their camembert. It’s more important to have enough of it (even if you only use dinner knives) and make sure you include spoons for the spread. It can be painful for drooling contestants to stare at the bounty in front of them without a chance to get the goods onto a cracker and into their mouth.
You’ll also need a small bowl for olive pits, cheese rinds, and anything else your guests might want to throw away at mealtime. A surefire way to elicit audience resentment is to awkwardly and awkwardly scatter skewer pits and half-nibbled rejects across the edible landscape.
How to do it
Consider the style: minimalistic? pop art? Abstract?
While it might seem silly to even mention these iconic artistic movements in a story about building edible boards, I’ve found that approaching some of these concepts from a purely superficial point of view can guide me through a theme or inspire a certain mood can. I love putting that unique focus on a head turner meat, an adventurous cheese, a perfect jam and a simple piece of sourdough to anchor a minimalist spread.
I also love a big, bold, beautiful mess where every ingredient flows into one another. Whatever your intended outcome, start slowly, perhaps one category at a time, spread them evenly across the board, and build from there, knowing that you can always rearrange and redirect if your needs change Mood changes and you suddenly feel inspired to take it in a different direction.
rule of thirds: While there are absolutely no rules for making a sausage platter, I will often do it when building classically appealing “Instagram-worthy” / “Pinterest-worthy” spreads that seem to strike the ideal balance of rich and overflowing, but still are neat and tasty Decide on three types of main ingredients (cheese, meat and spread), arrange them category by category on the board, and then fill in the holes with the accoutrements of nuts, olives, fruits, etc.
Whether or not you put the bread or crackers on the board itself is (like everything) a personal choice and may depend on dietary considerations like gluten sensitivity. However, I often opt for a combination of crackers on the board and fresh bread (perhaps with a little olive oil and sea salt for dipping) as a side.
The finishing touch: Whatever themes inspire you, whatever ingredients you work with, or whatever concepts you explore, I find that certain details turn a simple board into a memorable masterpiece. Edible flowers, microgreens, a little sprinkling of something special—there’s a reason garnishes are so popular when serving and practicing artful presentation. Of course, remember not to cover up the main event with unnecessary decorations.
Beyond Meat (and Cheese)
While I’ve explored the classic combination of cured meats and cream cheese extensively, many foods lend themselves well to a beautiful board display. A rainbow-inspired veggie platter, a deconstructed fruit salad with a dreamy dip, a fun and funky dessert board with a chocolaty theme… I even made a DIY pancake board that’s always popular for brunch get-togethers.
As with any art, there are no limits to what you can do and how you can do it! Have fun, get creative, and when you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember that what you eat matters more than presentation, and people won’t necessarily remember how it all looked, but how they themselves felt about it. And that’s what art is really about.
Balsamic fig jam
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: About 1 hour
Makes about 1 cup of jam
6-8 soft fresh figs
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
Clean and halve the figs.
Place them in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat with all remaining ingredients. Cook until thick and jam-like, 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring regularly while crushing the figs. *Note: if you notice the figs aren’t falling apart after about 15 minutes, add more orange juice or even a splash of water and stir well and mash.
Remove the rosemary sprig and any large rosemary needles and place the fig jam in a sterilized and dry mason jar for canning (leave some space at the top before sealing). Or, if you’re going to use more right away, allow the jam to cool to room temperature and refrigerate for up to three weeks.
Creamy roasted beet dip
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: About 45 minutes
Makes about 1.5 cups of dip
3 medium beets, peeled and cut into chunks
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and cleaned
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (plus approx
-2 tbsp for frying)
¼ cup plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup feta cheese
Handful of fresh dill
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400F.
Toss the beetroot in a medium-sized mixing bowl with a little olive oil and place in a casserole dish with a lid (if you don’t have a covered casserole dish, you can also use aluminum foil). Roast the beets once or twice, turning, until fork tender, about 45 minutes. Allow the beets to cool, then blend with the remaining ingredients in a high speed blender until smooth and creamy. Transfer to a container and refrigerate for up to a week.
Honey Lemon Cream Cheese Whip
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Makes about 2 cups of whip
½-¾ cup cream cheese
2 tbsp honey
½ cup whipping cream
Zest of 1 medium lemon
Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and honey until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go. Pour a quarter of the whipping cream into the cream cheese mixture. Beat until smooth. Scrape down the sides and repeat the process a second time until thick and fluffy.
Mix in the lemon zest until just incorporated. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use. *Note: If you would like the whisk to soften, take it out of the fridge for 10-15 minutes and give it a small whisk before serving.
Chocolate Almond Fudge Sauce
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Makes about 1.5 cups of sauce
½ cup dark chocolate chips
½ cup smooth almond butter
½ cup whipping cream
2-4 tbsp maple syrup
pinch of salt
In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together chocolate, almond butter, and heavy cream.
Keep stirring until the chocolate is completely melted and well incorporated into the almond butter and cream. Add maple syrup, one tablespoon at a time, until you’re happy with the flavor (this depends on how sweet your dark chocolate chips are).
Add a pinch of salt, stir again before removing from heat and transferring to a bowl to serve. *Note: the sauce will thicken as it cools.
Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a publication of Black Press Media
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