When it comes to “food porn” on social media, charcuterie boards are stealing the show. Artful arrangements of salami roses, paper-thin prosciutto, glistening fruit and cheese wheels prove that we first eat with our eyes.
Boards became popular during the pandemic. “People were looking for something different,” says Erica Kirlin, owner of Beachin Bash, which specializes in beach picnics and bonfires. And the interest has only increased. “If anything, people are getting more creative.”
To be sure, charcuterie is third on the 2023 list of 10 hot trends, according to a survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association in partnership with the American Culinary Federation and Technomic. It’s so hot that Herr’s released a limited-edition charcuterie board-flavored potato chip.
In reality, charcuterie is a centuries-old branch of French cooking focused on meat products: sausages, terrines, smoked ham and confit. The practice started as a pre-refrigeration preservation method, and techniques include salt-curing, brining, fermenting, emulsifying and sausage-making. Regardless, many Americans view charcuterie as a medley of spicy or salty meats and cheeses, along with mustard, honey, jam, nuts, fruit and pickles.
A board looks easy to arrange. It’s not. “It takes more time than people think,” says Lynn Hanna of It’s Simply Delicious, a north Wilmington personal chef service. “There’s preparing the meat—such as wrapping it around breadsticks or creating a rosette. You slice the cheese, crumble it or cut it into blocks. There’s a layering component.”
For ideas, Hanna joined a Facebook group devoted to charcuterie. Along with social media, novices can attend workshops. Chef Robbie Jester, for instance, leads sold-out charcuterie classes at Bellefonte Brewing Company in Brandywine Hundred.
If you don’t want to do it yourself, there are plenty of options. (Prices are subject to change.)
Sticklers order a cheese-only board at The House of William & Merry in Hockessin for $24. For $18 more, they can add house-cured charcuterie—three chef’s selections. Bill Hoffman might feature magret Moulard duck ham, leek ash-garlic bresaola, brown sugar-sage lomo (cured pork tenderloin), duck or fish rillette or saucisson (dry-cured sausages). “I’m also working on Berkshire pancetta, guanciale,” says Hoffman, who puts his young cooks on charcuterie duty to refine their skills.
In downtown Wilmington, La Fia Bistro’s menu includes a $22 cheese board with four artisan cheeses and a $26 charcuterie. Order three of each for $26.
The combo is known as a “master board,” and it’s also available at Tonic ($36), which sells separate and charcuterie options. “All are big enough to share,” notes executive chef Pat Bradley. Most people gravitate toward the master board or the cheese, he says.
In Rehoboth Beach, La Fable features a cheese board for $20 and an $8 charcuterie addition. The approach befits the French restaurant.
However, charcuterie isn’t just for boards. For example, at One Coastal in Fenwick Island, owner Matt Kern has added catfish sausage to his corn-fried Chesapeake blue catfish, and he’s incorporated guanciale and nduja, a spicy, spreadable pork sausage, into other dishes. (The restaurant also has a cheese board.)
Something extra: Caterers, grocery stores and small business owners specializing in charcuterie sell diverse spreads with more than meat, cheese and standard accoutrements. For example, Beachin Bash lets customers add locally sourced sweets and crudité.
As the name implies, a board is served on a cutting board. However, artisans may deliver the goods in a pretty box or on a platter. For a board on steroids, there are party-pleasing grazing tables, such as at Crumb and Cow in Glen Mills, which will set up a tempting “tablescape” on 4-, 6- or 8-foot tables. (The latter feeds up to 150 guests.)
These displays take talent, says Jester of In Jest Events and Pizzeria Mariana in Newark. “The size of the table is, for sure, the first thing we consider, then the colors within the event or the room,” says the chef, who recently competed on Netflix’s Pressure Cooker. “You want to make sure your risers and décor match the overall feel of the event.” Greenery and beige or white flowers give the display interest without eclipsing the food, he adds.
An effective grazing table features items at varying heights.
A shared board is not for everyone. Social distancers will appreciate cup-cuterie, individual portions of meat, cheese and other items. First State Charcuterie in Southern Delaware serves two cheeses, a meat skewer, dried and fresh fruit and a sweet in individually wrapped cups for $10.
Hanna has prepared cup-cuterie for political fundraisers. For small, informal groups, tuck individual portions in cupcake tins, which are easy to transport, she suggests.
Of course, Americans like to break the rules. Although a meat-and-cheese board is a staple on Sonora’s dinner menu, the Newark restaurant also sells a brunch version with candied bacon, smoked salmon, prosciutto, brie and mini bagels with lemon curd and cream cheese. “It also has some fruit and bagel accompaniments like tomato, red onion, capers and cucumber,” explains owner Melissa Sonora.
“Charcuterie is third on the 2023 list of 10 hot trends, according to a survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association in partnership with the American Culinary Federation and Technomic.”
Siam Fisaha, who started Luxe Charcuterie during the pandemic, sells a KID-cuterie, which includes a sandwich, cheese, crackers, a yogurt tube, a juice box, fresh fruit and veggies ($15). (Fisaha has expanded in more ways than one by opening a pickup storefront at 1927 W. 4th St. in Wilmington.)
Along the coast, Beachin Bash delivers ingredients for s’mores as a board option for a bonfire. Or they’ll include a mini bonfire device. In Bethany Beach, Carolyn Wetzelberger of DiFebo’s Market has added shrimp cocktail and roast beef crostini to the mix.
And lately, culinary magazines have touted the butter board, a layer of gourmet butter with toppings. “In my house, it would go over well,” says Hanna of It’s Simply Delicious. “Butter is one of my favorite ingredients.”
But in polite society, she notes, keeping track of double dips might prove difficult.
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