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There are few things more crucial to an intimate gathering—or better yet, a night spent at home alone or with a partner—than the perfect charcuterie board. Marissa Mullen, founder of the fromage-based empire That Cheese Plate—sees crafting an exquisite charcuterie board as a form of self-care. And nothing has ever sounded more right to us. Mullen, who authored That Cheese Plate Will Change Your Life (which debuted in May 2020), extolls charcuterie board ideas, creates cheese-by-numbers boards for her followers, and cultivates a dairy-forward community of board enthusiasts, sat down (virtually) with Departures to show us exactly how to make a charcuterie board.
Mullen, the sought-after cheese connoisseur and resident cheese contributor at Food52, who amid the pandemic and a canceled national book tour even teaches charcuterie board classes (That Cheese Class), shared her fool-proof cheese-by-numbers system with us. She broke down every step and showed us the artistry behind one of her favorite cheese boards, That Cheese Party Plate, pulled from her book. Follow along as Mullen walks us through the step-by-step board assembly process, and you might just find a delicious charcuterie board idea and a supremely relaxing hobby along the way.
Preparing the Perfect Charcuterie Board
Mullen described That Cheese Party Plate—i.e., the board she’s breaking down for us—as an elevated take on the basics. We’re “taking [it] up a notch with nicer cheeses, some fancier meats, and some new pairings as well,” she said.
Before assembly, she always prepares by precutting hard cheeses. For That Cheese Party Plate, we’re using cheddar, which she serves in uneven cubes. To make the cubes, “just take a sharp knife and stick it directly into the wedge of cheese and twist your wrist, so the curds will almost break off the larger cheddar block,” instructed Mullen.
Next, slice your gouda into triangular wedges. When thinking about how to effectively cut your hard cheeses, Mullen reminded charcuterie board enthusiasts that they want to cultivate an “easy grazing experience.” Finally, she cuts the camembert into eight slices, but said cutting the soft cheese isn’t necessary, especially if you prefer to avoid the cheese getting a bit gooey as it adjusts to room temperature.
Find Your Charcuterie Board Foundation
For the elevated charcuterie board, Mullen recommended one 15-inch diameter lazy susan (though, this can of course be pared down when making an individual-sized version of the plate) and two, four-ounce glass ramekins. The ramekins hold your dips or other accoutrements, like cornichons (in the case of That Cheese Party Plate, Mullen uses green castelvetrano olives).
Assembling Your Meat: Prosciutto and Salami Calabrese
Mullen starts with designing the cured meats on her board. “Meat covers everything from cured meat (like charcuterie) to a sautéed chicken sausage, or whatever you want to do for your protein,” she explained. For That Cheese Party Plate, Marissa uses salami calabrese (a spicier salami) and prosciutto, which she makes into a “salami river and prosciutto river.” Those are her terms for “meat flowing down a cheese plate.”
To make the salami river, “take a slice of salami, fold it in half and then in half again—so, fold it into quarters—and then layer your quarters from one end of the board to the other, curving them into an s-curve,” said Mullen.
The prosciutto will follow the same formation as the salami river, but you’ll display it in a more free form-style than the folded quarters of thinly sliced salami. “For the prosciutto, you just want to take out the slices one by one and gently lay them on the plate in the same formation as the salami,” Mullen concluded.
Placing Your Produce: Berries, Dried Apricots, Figs, and Green Olives
Mullen makes “produce ponds” to go with her “meat rivers.” And for the produce step, she always includes fruit, vegetables, dried fruits, or anything in a brine (like cornichons or olives).
“It’s like landscape terms,” she said of her signature produce ponds. “Disperse your colors around the board—I kind of like to use symmetry sometimes, but this is when I say you can really paint with your produce, so just add in your color. You don't want to fill up all of the spaces, just fill in some gaps with these little ponds, and then the rest of the spaces you’ll fill in with your ‘crunch.’”
For this board, she’s used raspberries, blackberries and blueberries grouped together, dried apricots (halved), fresh figs (scattered throughout), and then castelvetrano olives in a glass ramekin.
Adding the Crunch: Butter Crackers and Mixed Nuts
Step four of assembling this charcuterie board is crunch. “This is where we’re going to add the crunchy items—so, our vehicle, like the crackers—and then nuts as well,” said Mullen. “I always like to put crackers on my plate to get people started, but I also like to serve a cracker plate on the side as well, for easy refilling.” For this plate, she used butter crackers in cracker stacks on her board, and filled in the rest of the gaps with unsalted mixed nuts.
Rounding Out Your Charcuterie Board with Dips: Quince Jam
For step five, you’ll place “any sort of dip, jam, or honey that makes for a good pairing,” said Mullen. For That Cheese Party Plate, she uses quince jam, though she advised anyone who couldn’t track down quince jam to try a mixed berry jam as a substitute. For this board, she opted to use only one dip; “I usually don’t like to overdo it with the dips, because it tends to be a lot of different flavors, so I usually stick with one to two [dips],” said Mullen.
Garnishing Your Board With a Pop of Color: Fresh Thyme
The final step when assembling not just Mullen’s signature party board but any gorgeous meat-and-cheese board is using fresh garnishes. “This is where we add in a pop of color as the cherry on top—I like to use fresh herbs for this.” Mullen said. Typically, the herb garnish (for this board, she recommended fresh thyme) isn’t meant to be eaten, but rather provides a “pop of green contrast.”