Charcuterie boards have become so trendy you would think they were a brand-new phenomenon. Meat and cheese boards are social media rock stars, showing up on more restaurant menus and inspiring entrepreneurs attracting a much broader audience.
Yet, this is a hot craze that has been around for centuries, melding tradition with creativity.
Charcuterie has been a vital culinary craft since at least the 15th century, when shops specialized in selling confits, foie gras and prepared foods. The word comes from the French words for flesh (chair) and cooked (cuit).
“But the French don’t have a monopoly on a tradition of cured meats — the German delicatessen and the Italian salumeria are also meat meccas, as are Spanish markets with their stunning legs of jamón,” according to Hannah Howard of Deli Business.
Charcuterie applies to boards that are dominated by smoked meats, accompanied by a few types of cheese and a supporting cast of accouterments. Cheese boards stick to fromage and complimentary items.
Both types of boards are getting more sophisticated, highly photogenic and increasingly accessible.
A search for #charcuterie on Instagram brings more than 2 million results. TikTok and Pinterest also boast monster followings for a broad array of platters that grow increasingly complicated. There are now charcuterie stylists to ensure boards are picture perfect. And you can attend classes where charcuterie makers will show you how to make salami roses, a wedge of Brie and a cluster of grapes look like a still life painting.
What’s more, charcuterie boards are the new canvas for lots of other combinations: French fries (sweet potato, crinkly, waffle cut — you name it), pancakes, salads. Every type of food is on the table when it comes to creating a lovely and edible arrangement.
Charcuterie has evolved from status quo to sexy snack for lots of reasons that don’t include social media. Traditional platters don’t involve cooking, they’re perfect for a date night or business lunch, you can enjoy them at home or in a restaurant, and they can accommodate a party of one to dozens for a special occasion.
Their versatility extends to price. They can vary from $14 to $30 for small boards to more than $200 for large orders.
“They’ve definitely had a resurgence in the last year or two,” said William Lawson, executive chef/owner of Mimi’s Table, which offers charcuterie in-house and for takeout. “The thing is, you can have a lot of great flavors. There’s something on a board that everyone will like.”
Mimi’s charcuterie boards, for instance, might include olives marinated in-house, a smoked dip — made with salmon, trout and mascarpone — duck confit and homemade apricot jam as well as select meats and a couple cheeses, served with lavash crackers. A cheese board would bring three or four types of cheese, fresh fruit and preserves. Gum Drops grapes and Peppadew peppers are favorites at Mimi’s, Lawson said.
Brian Knepper, executive chef at downtown’s Savour restaurant, also switches up his charcuterie boards, adding items like housemade smoked sausage, pickled vegetables, pork terrine or olive loaf.
“It’s never the same week to week,” said Savour owner Drew McLeod. “It’s one of our most popular appetizers.”
During the pandemic, charcuterie garnered a growing fan base, with families and younger clients jumping on the board bandwagon.
“Because of COVID, it was hard to get together so I started dropping off boards for family and friends,” said Shishandra Devlin.
After getting lots of positive feedback for her arrangements, Devlin decided to launch her own charcuterie business in December, calling it Bougie with a Board.
As for the Bougie, think of fancy cheeses, said Devlin, who also has a full-time job for a software technology company, is a student in the juris masters program at Florida State University and recently became a mom.
Charcuterie is a passion for her. She likes discovering new things and adding out-of-the ordinary ingredients like blueberry goat cheese and smoked Gouda aside from a variety of fruit, jams and meats.
She has created boards big enough for a bridal shower and cute charcuterie cups for individual portions. Devlin can handle special requests like grain-free or keto boards and creates savory and dessert combinations.
One of her joys in creating boards is “finding the perfect bite.” She includes a menu with everything on the board and then adds her perfect bite suggestion. One might be “herb (toasted) crackers, Genoa salami, manchego cheese, a piece of fig and a drizzle of honey.”
Among the new charcuterie entrepreneurs, neighbors Julie Fleishman and Brittany Barnhart got into the charcuterie business after they concocted impressive boards just for themselves.
“Our apartments shared a porch and during the pandemic, we were both working full-time but working from home,” said Barnhart. “We’d bond over making cheese boards.”
Their boards became more adventurous and their skills more professional, so the neighbors-turned-friends decided to launch their own business, called Say Cheese, in 2020.
“Charcuterie is more than just eating cheese. It’s a social event,” said Barnhart. “When people weren’t going out, they could get an order delivered right to their door, and they didn’t have to go to a restaurant.”
Say Cheese sales boomed. They received more than 400 orders within a few months. Yet, there have been challenges. Fleishman left for a better job offer in Tampa but Barnhart has been continuing on her own.
When she’s not working as the manager of a state office, she creates charcuterie boards in a commercial kitchen space. Barnhart also teaches local classes that show participants how to create an impressive platter with all the decorative tricks, like those rosettes.
The Say Cheese clientele includes parents who buy boards for their college students as well as requests for to-go meals, gift boxes, corporate presents and even a canine charcuterie board called the Barkcuterie. It features “dog-friendly snacks such as cheese, carrots, blueberries and carrots.”
Now there’s a satisfied customer.
Entertaining and serving clients changed a lot during the pandemic and charcuterie makers learned on the fly.
Businesses had requests for “adult lunchables” as individual servings instead of big, shareable platters during more rare staff meetings.
Alexis Conner started her business in January of this year so she stepped up her versatility from the get-go. One popular charcuterie option became her deconstructed boards served in Mason jars with long picks.
But she’s seeing a return to bigger gatherings and demands for bigger boards.
“Grazing boards, which are a larger board, are more popular than ever,” said Conner. “People have started to have more parties and more events.”
As for Conner, she’s a full-time social worker for the Florida Guardian Ad Litem program who turned to charcuterie as a creative outlet.
Her mom introduced her to making meat and cheese boards and she ran with it.
“I started making them for my family and my mom said ‘why don’t you make a business out of it,’” said Conner.
Since launching her business, Conner keeps discovering new favorites like vanilla goat cheese, sliced apples, dried okra, mixing sweet and salty flavors.
Possibilities are endless, she said.
Charcuterie makers expect the popularity of boards to keep growing.
“People can sit around, sharing wine and beer around a meat and cheese board,” said Devlin, “It’s a good conversation starter. And who doesn’t love to talk about food?”
Want to create your own charcuterie board?
If you would like to create your own arrangements, here are some tips from the pros.
Entrepreneurs who deliver to homes and businesses often use a sturdy cardboard box for their deliveries, but you can get as plain or fancy as you want with a foundation of a board, platter or tray. Look through your cabinets for small dishes to hold ingredients like nuts, dips and olives.
As a rule of thumb, Better Homes and Gardens suggests, include cheeses in these basic categories: a hard cheese, a soft cheese and a blue cheese. Contrasting flavors and textures diversify the board.
When you’re looking for meats and cheeses, pick choices you like plus something new.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for samples and flavor advice,” Lawson said. “Get creative and add smoked fish dip, fruit compote, olive tapenade or a flavored hummus,” Lawson said.
Look for items that add color and height. Use fruit and vegetables that are bite-size friendly, Devlin said. Consider a variety of crackers, breadsticks or gluten-free choices (like a nut-based cracker), she added.
“Put things next to each other that will pair well and look pretty,” said Barnhart. “Try different accouterments — nuts, dried fruits. “It’s important to branch out.”
If you want to take things to the next level, try making salami roses or cutting cheese in a more artful way, she said.
“Practice makes perfect,” said Barnhart. Most importantly, “Have fun.”
Want to order in?
Here’s a look at some of Tallahassee’s best options for ordering charcuterie either at home or in a restaurant.
— Boards by Alexis: Call 850-570-1093
— Bougie with a Board: Call 850-597-1244 or visit fashionedforhem.com (section charcuterie)
— Clusters & Hops: 707 N. Monroe St.; 850-222-2669; winencheese.com
— KitchenAble Cooking School and Catering: Boards by chef/owner Jessica Bright McMullen; 850-264-2308; kitchenable.net
— Mimi’s Table: 1311 Miccosukee Road; 850-999-8406; mimistabletally.com
— Horizons Bar & Grille: 3427 Bannerman Road; 850-329-2371; horizonsbarandgrille
— Rootstock Pours & Plates: 228 S. Adams St.; 850-518-0201; rootstocktally.com
— Savour: 115 E. Park Ave.; 850-765-6966; savourtallahassee.com
— Say Cheese: Call 850-792-4044; saycheesetally.com
— Table 23: Look for The Southern Slate meat and cheese board; 1215 Thomasville Road; 850-329-2261; table23.com
— The Wine House: 1355 Market St.; 850-893-2254; thewinehousemarketst.com