In true Leo fashion, I’ve already mentioned this numerous times, but in case you missed it, I turned 30 this weekend! I did so with mostly extremely happy feelings, mainly because I was surrounded by friends and family for the entire weekend and felt so very loved. Many of you wished me a happy day as well—wow, thank you so much! I love our little Fresh Letter community a lot!
The highlight of the multi-day celebration (again, Leo vibez) was the big bash Quentin and I threw in our apartment on Saturday evening. And to many people’s surprise, I didn’t cook a damn thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very much here for a dinner party and cooking for friends and family will always be a love language for me, but we hosted over 20 people and cooking is my job, so I wanted to take the opportunity for a little break from it.
That said, keeping folks well-fed is also a core tenet of my hosting ethos, so instead of a full meal, I provided what I like to call “Big Snacks™”—think: a couple chips and dip options, store-bought pigs in a blanket (had to have hotdogs!), other frozen aisle delicacies, and the absolute star of the show: the epic charcuterie board referenced in the subject of this email. I actually turned our entire kitchen table into a grazing board and was beyond chuffed with the results.
Turns out, a really beautiful spread on a board is an amazing way to keep guests full and entertained and is extremely low-stress…
Think about it—regardless of its size, a well-assembled cheese board is not only a delicious choose-your-own-adventure option for guests, but is also visually stunning and impressive. It can serve as a wow-factor so the rest of the food doesn’t really have to! Oh, and, putting one together is actually so easy and quick. Taking all the shopping and prep time together, I don’t think I spent more than an hour on this beautiful baby. TL;DR if I can do it, you can too!
Here are the tips & tricks I employ for building a visually stunning (and delicious) cheese/charcuterie/grazing board:
Gather your comestibles and focus on variety when you do so. Variety is important to the taste and texture of any meal, but in the case of a board it’s doubly so because it creates visual interest on your board, making it more pleasing to the eye. Here’s more detail on specific categories:
Cheese: though I love the stuff, I’m far from a cheese-monger, so I always just get a mix of hard and soft cheeses. My favorite hard cheeses are sharp cheddar and gruyere and my favorite soft cheeses are goat and brie.
Veggies (and fruit): I’ve never built a board without veggies—while they’re not traditional on charcuterie boards, they add so much inherent color and are fun to munch on. If you take one thing away from this list, I’d say it would be not to skip veggies! They’re so pretty. Toss some fruit on there too, while you’re at it. Hot tip: You can pre-slice veggies up to two days in advance and store them in water in a sealed container in the fridge to make prep on the day of your event a snap.
Bowled items: having a few bowls on your board makes for nice variety of shapes and an opportunity for different textures. Think store-bought dips, olives, pickles, nuts, or dried fruits as options for the bowls on your board.
Crackers/crunchies: if your board is smaller, variety is less important here, but for a big board, get a couple different shaped crackers, chips, and breads, and maybe include a GF option if any guests have dietary requirements. Long cheese straws are always also really visually pleasing and yummy!
Meats: again, these are totally optional on any board, but they do offer an opportunity to make fun longer shapes on your board. More on that below.
Gather your inedible supplies:
Most importantly, the surface you plan to build on. And choose something that may be a little smaller than you think necessary because a key to getting that wow-factor is having a board that’s borderline crowded! A large surface like a table is great for a crowd of more than 10 people (and really amps up that wow-factor), but for a smaller group, other options include standard cutting boards or a medium-sized plate. And I actually love using a rimmed baking sheet as my base. The rim makes filling the board to the edge a snap!
If you choose a surface that you wouldn’t typically eat off of (like a table or a baking sheet), line it with parchment paper.
Select a few bowls and ramekins of differing sizes for your bowled items (again, creating variety for visual interest).
Hot tip! If you’re putting pitted fruit/olives/anything that creates waste on your board, place a small empty bowl somewhere at the edge of the board or off of it nearby so guests have an easy place to put those things.
Have the proper utensils available for each item that needs one (spoons for dips, knives for cheeses, forks for olives, etc.)
Start building! Create structure as you do so:
I like to start with my bowls, placing them on the surface in an asymmetrical way, often forming some sort of triangle shape, as pictured here.
Move on to items that can create long shapes, like meats that you can fold up and place into river-like formations anchored by the bowls. You can easily do this with crackers as well. These long lines are important, so don’t skip them!
Place your cheeses in a way that feels well-balanced to the bowls. Once we have the structure of the bowls and the longer lines made with the crackers and/or meats, everything else is going to come together beautifully, so don’t overthink this! Hot tip: cut into the cheese a little so guests feel invited to eat as soon as they arrived. Make things rustic and inviting!
Add in your additional crackers, veggies, and fruits. I like to add each individual item in an ample quantity over a couple different concentrated spots on the board. Think: a handful of sliced cucumbers next to the brie, another handful near one of the dips, and a handful along one of the rivers you created. Repeat this until all your additional items are on the board. Hot tip: if you’re a visual person, don’t be afraid to reference photos online (or the pictures I shared here) for inspiration! The IG hashtag #cheeseplate is a great place to start.
Fill in any gaps with small things like nuts & dried fruits. Hot tip: everything should be touching! Creating an abundant-looking board is half the battle and leaving no gaps is the way to accomplish that.
Garnishes: you can use them, but everything else is already so colorful and pretty so you don’t really need them, in my opinion. Plus, it’s more fun if everything’s edible. If you do want some, opt for things like rosemary, edible flowers, or opened pomegranates are really pretty in the winter!
That’s it!! You did it. Revel in the beauty of your board and, please, once the guests arrive and have a chance to ogle, dig in!
Okay, as always, I’m dying to hear from you! Any questions about building a grazing board? Have you done this before? Would you try it for your next gathering? Honestly, it took me about an hour of work total, which is so much less time than I’d spend cooking for a huge crowd like this, so I cannot recommend it highly enough if you’re on the fence! And if you do try it and take any of these tips into consideration, your board will definitely be photo-worthy and I’d love to see your results! Tag me on Instagram, or feel free to shoot me an email directly by responding here.
Okay, that’s it from me for this week!
With love and a tip of my chef’s hat,