A charcuterie board

Individual Grazing Boards Are The 2020 Holiday Appetizer We Can Get Behind

Spooning food onto plates at self-serve buffets and sticking your hands into bowls of salty snacks are big no-no’s at the immediate-family-only, socially-distanced gatherings recommended this season. And that goes for putting out overflowing communal platters of cheese and charcuterie. 

So what’s a host to serve during a cocktail soirée or to tide over guests until the first course is served? 

Enter the individual grazing board, a pre-assembled single-serving plate, platter or (yes) board that’s filled with all of the goodies and accoutrements your guests crave. (Think of it as the personal pan pizza of the appetizer world.) 

Justin Severino, chef and co-founder of Salty Pork Bits, a new brick-and-mortar shop in Pittsburgh and nationwide e-retailer of cured meats and other culinary delights, and Casleah Herwaldt, a California-based certified sommelier who also facilitates cheese and charcuterie wine pairings, share their tips to help you get on-board:

Assemble Aesthetically

“I don’t like when things look contrived so I go for controlled but random,” Severino says. “Make the plate look like meat slices fell from heaven and landed in a beautiful pile.” 

Starting with a sharp knife, cut salami on the bias so you get longer cuts, he suggests; aim for about one-sixteenth of an inch thick, or wider if you prefer. Herwaldt likes to add fruit, fresh herbs and even flowers to add presentational pops of color. “And fill the holes with nuts, fruit and crackers so it looks overflowing.” We like these individual wooden boards or bamboo boards, but you can also use square ceramic salad plates or individual slate boards

Aim For Balance

Since the majority of what you are serving consists of different varieties of salty, fatty, fermented cured meats, balance out boards with sweet, crunchy and pickled or acidic accoutrements, advises Severino. He is partial to Manzanilla olives stuffed with anchovies, cornichons, Marcona almonds, whole grain mustard mixed with Dijon mustard, a warm crunchy baguette and membrillo, a sun-dried fig paste from Spain. 

If you are including cheese, select a mixture of hard or soft cheeses, Herwaldt says, like an aged cheddar or Gouda, goat cheese, and that ooey gooey crowd favorite, burrata. And crudité dragged through caramelized onion dip can add an element of crunch and color, too.

Take Guests On A Global Jaunt 

“There is no right or wrong way to build a charcuterie board in terms of presentation,” Severino says. Having said that, it can be fun to create individual boards themed around products native to a certain country like Italy, Spain or France. Salty Pork Bits’ Spanish Gems package, for example, contains four salami flavors (chorizo, fuet, padron pepper and morcilla achorizada) made with meat from American Iberico pigs raised at Iberian Pasture in Bluffton, Georgia and finished on pecans, peanuts and sunflowers. A French board might have salami noir (blood sausage), pâté, saucisson sec and cornichons, which an Italian-inspired spread offers calabrese, speck, Genoa salami, giardiniera and breadsticks.   

Prep Boards In Advance

Individual grazing boards can be made two or three hours before guests arrive; loosely cover them with plastic wrap and store at room temperature. You can even assemble meats and cheese on individual boards or platters the night before, stored in the refrigerator tightly covered with plastic wrap. An hour of so before your event, take them out of the fridge so they are allowed to come to room temperature, which will add more flavor. Add crackers, nuts, bread and cut up fruit right before serving so they don’t dry out or oxidize.

Serve Pairings That Pop

Herwaldt believes a balanced chardonnay cozies up to most cheeses, while a cabernet with bright acidity works with pretty much any charcuterie. She touts Post & Beam Winery, the new label from Napa Valley’s Far Niente Family, who released a 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon with notes of plum, violet, sage, berry and oak, and a 2019 Chardonnay with juicy flavors of mango, stone fruit and candied citrus rind along with gardenia and spice.

Severino loves the palate scrubbing bubbles in sparkling wine as well as the digestive-friendly bitterness of a Negroni. “The beverages are different, but both nicely cut through the richness and salty elements on the board.”

Because this is 2020 and we all need an indulgence, pop open a bottle (or magnum) of Champagne Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé, a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir that is elegant and restrained with red berries and citrus and a versatile bubbly for your boards.

And don’t forget about dry Lambrusco, a semi-sparkling red wine from Emilia Romagna that’s traditionally served with cured meats–locals in the region are known to walk around town with a tumbler of the wine and a cup of salumi. Dry, deep and intense with strawberry, raspberry and cherry notes, the 2019 Medici Ermete Concerto Reggiano Lambrusco is the world’s first single vineyard vintage lambrusco, made in the charmat method with grapes from the Tenuta La Rampata vineyard. 

Don’t Overthink It!

“At holiday gatherings, appetizers are often the most fun and unique items. I love building a charcuterie board because you can really make it your own,” Severino says. “You can make it differently every time and bet there will be something on the board to please everyone.”

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