Charcuterie boards are no longer just for meat and cheese
Nowadays, cold cuts don’t just mean meat. You can thank covid-19 for this.
Long a hallmark of social gatherings, platters have gained new attention over the past 18 months as people seek to raise their snacks at home. Of course, hungry humans have laid out provisions like prosciutto and cheese on planks for centuries. But amateur chefs don’t just settle for salami or brie. They are redefining the term charcuterie itself, adding new ingredients to their creations.
There are Mexican planks with nachos, while others focus on breakfast foods and even candy. The “Barkuterie” boards with dog treats are also a thing.
These alternatives aren’t exactly new, but they really exploded as people entertained themselves during lockdown with items of eye-catching designs and weird ingredients. And it doesn’t look like they’re going away: In August, Pinterest searches for mini cuts of cold meats were up 30-fold from a year ago, the company said. The hot chocolate and pumpkin platters also grabbed attention.
This creative explosion could be a sign of a larger change. In the opinion of food historian Ken Albala, the era of covid-19 represented the last breath of a rustic, do-it-yourself approach to food. As people grow bored of baking their own bread, he said interest in more exotic and over-the-top meals and ingredients may set in.
“The charcuterie board is kind of a harbinger of what’s about to change in our culinary aesthetic,” said Albala.
Before any connoisseur is against it: yes, the dessert, brunch and vegan boards that invade Instagram and TikTok are not technically charcuterie, a term derived from a French expression meaning cooked meat. On the contrary, the expanded definition shows how much people crave colorful sets on the dinner table.
The trend has even benefited more traditional designers. Marissa Mullen, a New York-based author and food stylist who sticks to more conventional things like cold cuts and cheese, published a cookbook describing her technique in May 2020. At first, she was preparing for the disaster given the lockdowns, but the craze attracted more followers.
“I get all of these people who are interested in the loose term ‘deli board’, and I can teach them to take it a step further,” Mullen said. “What can we learn about cheese? What can we learn about presentation? “
The rise in interest has also spawned a cottage industry of entrepreneurs, many of them women. Mel Rodríguez started planking in July 2020, after being put on leave from his job as a case manager at a Los Angeles law firm. Demand remained strong after orders doubled in January, she said.
His company, Curated Spread, already has requests for Halloween (deli searches have been especially popular on special occasions, including Valentine’s Day and July 4).
In Detroit, Victoria Cummings turned to deli after running an event business alongside her work as a teacher. Although she works weekends to fill orders, she prefers platters over traditional catering, which can involve days of prep and expensive ingredients that squeeze her margins.
His company, Detroit Charcuterie, offers everything from boxes of individual snacks to spreads that can span entire counters, also known as pasture tables. She incorporates tacos, chocolates and a myriad of other ingredients into her products.
“I never thought you could make a rose from so many different things,” Cummings said of a popular deli design. She initially thought she might get one or two orders a month, but instead she booked every weekend. “Cucumber roses, salami roses, mango roses, orange roses. It’s crazy how creative people get creative with what they put on the board.
The pandemic has prompted Suzanne Billings, who has run Noble Graze in Fayetteville, Ark., Since 2017, to make packets of single-serve snacks known as “jarcuterie.” At one point, she couldn’t get enough Mason jars for her arrangements, due to virus-induced supply chain issues. So she turned to boxes, cones, plastic cups and pretty much anything she could find. Billings is writing a cookbook on single serve deli meats.
“The ship can be pretty much anything you want,” she said. “It’s her beauty. You can just use what you have on hand.