My affinity for design is as strong as the day I started my professional creative journey. My first jobs with a small interior architecture and interior design firm in NYC poised me to immerse myself in design’s most important principles. I deepened my appreciation for scale, texture, and color as the years went on. I practiced mixing patterns, adding embellishments, and knowing when to edit. Fabrics, finishes, lighting, architectural details, and furniture: I wanted to learn and understand all of the nuances. And I wanted my creations to be elegant, welcoming, and beautiful.
Since those early days in the 1990s, I’ve come to understand that design applies to so many areas of life in addition to interiors and architecture. In fact, I’ve harnessed some of design’s aforementioned fundamentals to treat my family and guests to an artful charcuterie board now and then.
I know that anyone who is reading this post longs for GPS technology that will navigate their attention out of the Pinterest rabbit hole. I understand. Search for charcuterie boards on this platform, and images of gastronomic masterpieces delight, making it hard to come up with an original idea.
But who can blame us? This culinary movement delivers good-looking presentations that rival the works of glossy food magazine stylists. All of a sudden, my focus is to contrast prosciutto and capicola. I intently break crackers into textural gems so that they offset the smooth finish of mozzarella balls. I layer small pottery and wooden bowls, picked up perhaps, at a Mexican artisanal glass shop. Travel finds like these create dimension while functioning as vessels for basil aioli and fig jam. Like a distressed antique piece that I’ve positioned in a room to acknowledge history and enhance the space, small bowls and little plates reference a trip or another special moment in time.
My design instincts are on their A-game as I load the food elements. It’s a fun way to create something artistic that is also delicious. I lean on scale, color, contrast, and elevation to transform simple food into sculpture. It’s far easier to devote attention to an appetizer board than to the protein, vegetable, and starch trifecta that makes up the average dinner.
Like a set of floor plans before I draw in the furniture, an empty board is another kind of canvas. It awaits my layering of components into a well-balanced mix of delicious salty and sweet nibbles.
The beauty of a charcuterie board is that the ingredient list is up to you. And the biggest bonus is that nothing requires cooking. The basics are available in most food markets, but for ingredients that elevate the board, shop specialty food stores. They’ll offer small-batch and local cheeses, sauces, and dips. For this presentation, I partnered with Stonewall Kitchen, a specialty food purveyor that I enjoyed growing up in Connecticut. They offer crackers, spreads, pickled veggies, and nut mixes. Their products pair deliciously with the other elements on my board. I’ve created a list of choices that are full of flavor and can be fashioned into great style. But remember, there are no rules. Use this opportunity to stretch your own imagination. Have fun.
- Meats. Buy them pre-sliced. It’s easier to control portions, and they will arrange more easily into rows and stacks. I’m proud to tout La Quercia cured meats. This artisanal producer is based just miles from my home, and you’ll see it offered in markets nationwide.
- Cheeses. Three cheeses make a solid start. Choose a hard cheese, soft cheese, and one outlier. Varying colors create a more interesting presentation. May I celebrate Iowa again? I’ll do so in this category with Prairie Breeze, a hybrid cheddar with nutty undertones.
- Fruit, both the dried and fresh kind. Grapes are expected, but apple and kiwi slices, dates, or dried apricots will pop color into the layering.
- Pickled vegetables. I added crispy carrots with a part-sweet, part-tart profile.
- Crackers. Flat squares or tall skinny stick style, they all break beautifully into texture that doesn’t appear to be “perfect.” Cheddar Asiago Cheese Sticks are perfect for dipping, and their slim forms create height on the board. Avocado Oil and Sea Salt Crackers are tasty on their own, but I would dip them in another flavor. The more the merrier, right?
- Sauces, dips, and mustards. Choose something sweet and something savory. The “dippers” will pair well with all. I’m partial to roasted garlic, so Stonewall Kitchen’s Roasted Garlic Aioli left me eager to indulge. And for something to satisfy that sweet tooth, I chose Apple Cider Jam.
- Nuts. Make your nut choice interesting by buying in seasoned form. Or add a dab of olive oil and herbs to Marcona almonds. I used Stonewall Kitchen’s Ultimate Bar Mix for its variety of colors and shapes.