How to Make Meat and Cheese Board Like a Badass
Meat and cheese boards are beautiful and a great way to take the pressure off of your party prep. They are so easy to create that even your live-in, husband, or hilarious-but-hot-mess bestie can help. The key to this timeless and crowd pleasing snack board is in the selection of your meats and cheeses. You can do one meat, one cheese, or you can go crazy with a selection. Did I also mention this is going to free up some time before your guests come over so that you can make sure you look like a fucking queen?
Quality: You want to make sure you are buying something nice. Any meat that has water added cannot make it into your basket. For cheese, nothing that is based with oil. You only want dairy-based products. Save the Cheese Whiz and Slim Jims for road trips.
Artisanal Products: If you like stinky cheese and fancy house-cured meat, get your ass over to an artisanal cheese and/or butcher shop and treat yourself. If you, or your guests, can’t tell the difference there is nothing wrong with hitting up Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s for a high end, but more mass-produced product. Never apologize for either choice. As far as anyone knows, you cured that copa yourself.
Varying selection: When you have multiple meats and cheeses on one tray you should make sure that you have a nice variety. Not only is it great to try different styles, but it also starts a nice conversation among your guests as to which one they like better.
Choosing Meats: For meats, having a cured sausage like pepperoni or sopressata, a whole muscle cut like bresaola or prosciutto, and a pate or a terrine, like chicken liver or a country pork pate would give your guest a full-spectrum experience. The best part about choosing charcuterie is that people that make it or carry it in their store love to talk about it. Take a screenshot of this paragraph, tell them what you are making and what you are looking for. You will have so much more fun this way because you won’t feel overwhelmed. It’s also a great time for snacking because if the meat is being sliced to order, you can try it as you go. All of a sudden, boom! You nailed it! Meats are best when freshly sliced, so this is preferably done no more than 1 day ahead of time.
Choosing cheese: Cheese selection, like meat selection, is based loosely on texture. My rule of thumb is to do one soft, one medium, and one firm. Great examples of soft cheeses are chevre or brie. Using something slightly more processed, but still high-quality, like a boursin, is also always a crowd pleaser. For the medium texture cheese, choose a blue or cheddar. Hard cheeses like aged parmesan or gouda always tickle my fancy. Choosing cheese is a lot like meat in the respect that if you go to a store that has knowledgeable employees, seek their help. Be sure to let them know what budget you are working with because God knows we could spend our paychecks on cheese!
Cutting the Meat: For the most part, leave the meat cutting to the professionals. Every type of cured meat is different and needs to be sliced a certain way in order to be enjoyed properly. Some meats should be sliced on a slicer, like prosciutto and capocollo. If you want to serve a meat that you are slicing yourself, a smaller, one- to two-inch diameter cured sausage would be a good option. When cutting cured meat, do a tester slice for yourself to see if eating it is enjoyable. If it’s too chewy, go thinner. If it could use a little more integrity, go thicker.
Cutting the Cheese: On the flip side, you do not want pre-sliced cheese. You can slice cheese a maximum 6 hours in advance, but it’s preferable to slice cheese when you are building the plate, right before you serve. Cheese ripens from the inside out, so you want to have a little bit of that cheesy flavor profile in every bite. If you do that, you’re good! You also want to cut the cheese into two-bite portions so that your guest can try a little bit of everything.
Serving temperature: Want to show your friends that you really are a Bad Bitch? Every Bad Bitch knows that you would never serve cold meat or cheese. Let the cheese sit covered on your counter for about an hour before serving. This will allow the texture and flavor to be optimal. Your soft cheese will be gooey, your boursin spreadable, and you will be able to feel the crystals from your aged parmesan burst in your mouth. Charcuterie should also be brought to room temperature. This includes the cured meats, but not pates.
Bread and crackers: Everyone loves a fresh baguette, but there is nothing worse than a stale one. If you are planning on serving the baguette sliced and untoasted, make sure the bread is very fresh. If it’s a little on the stale side slice it thin, brush with canola oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and toast in the oven until golden at 375 degrees (about 15 minutes, rotating halfway through). For crackers, I always choose something on the thinner side like 365 Crackers or a Stoned Wheat Thin if I want something with more to it. I am also a big fan of Mary’s Gone Crackers. They are full of flavor and it’s a bonus that they are gluten-free, for those guests who live that life.
Mustard: whole grain or dijon, Maille brand preferred
Jam: skip the smuckers, Dickenson’s or comparable
Pickles: giardiniera or pickled mushrooms are always a great choice
That’s it! You are going to be serving the most badass plate on the block with these tips. Don’t be intimidated by the information—talk it out with the professionals in the store and you will be on your way. Nobody memorizes these rules overnight. One last tip: people want to put things on meat and cheese boards that are inedible all the time, don’t do it! Nobody wants a sprig of rosemary, save that for basting.