How to Build a Beautiful Vegetarian Charcuterie Board
Think savory olives, fig salami, and date syrup for the ultimate meat-free spread.
Before even taking a bite of food, many say that we eat first with our eyes. With that in mind, there’s no better visual feast than the charcuterie board: an abundant spread of (typically) meats, cheeses, fruits, and more, all laid out handsomely on a platter.
The word “charcuterie” refers traditionally to the French preparation of preserving meat to create things like salami and prosciutto. But over the years the charcuterie board has taken on an identity of its own—referring less directly to meat and more widely to the way a board is laid out and served. Along with its cousin, the grazing table, charcuterie boards are the perfect dish to set out for guests to welcome them into your home to stay awhile.
Charcuterie boards are also a chance to let your mind run wild as you shop for and eventually lay down all of your different ingredients to create a harmonious board full of color, texture, and flavor. In fact, as long as you hold onto that idea of creating variety, you can use any ingredients you want—which means meat is wholly unnecessary to create the ideal charcuterie board.
“Many people think of meats and cheeses when they think of charcuterie, but that’s simply not how my mind works,” says Chef Matthew Kenney, the restaurateur behind beloved vegan restaurants and founder of plant-based chocolate line, Casse-Cou. “It’s possible to make a beautiful board using savory olives and cashews or nut-based cheese, along with sweeter elements like dried fruit and jam. It’s important to include creamy items, as well as nuts and crackers, in order to make sure that the spread is balanced.”
Choose your ingredients wisely
The first thing to do when creating a grocery list for your charcuterie board is separating it into categories of taste: savory, sweet, and salty. Try to pick at least two elements that fall into each category. Some examples of each include:
Sweet: Fresh fruit, jams and jellies, fig salami, honey or honeycomb, and chocolate.
Savory: Cheese, meat alternatives, hummus, tapenade, and fresh vegetables.
Salty: Olives, gherkins, pickled vegetables, and salted nuts.
While picking out your charcuterie elements, try to think not only about taste but also about texture. If you plan on grabbing a soft goat cheese or brie, pick one or two other cheeses that are firm or semi-firm, like parmesan, manchego, or cheddar. Have some jam in your fridge already? Your second sweet item could be a contrasting texture, like crunchy apple slices or candied pecans. If you’re missing the meat, try adding in some more filling ingredients like Fig Salami by Hellenic Farms, Mia’s Prosciutto-Style deli slices, marinated mushrooms, or baba ganoush.
Another easy way to pick complementary ingredients is to establish a theme for your board, whether that’s a color group, a season, or you want to try for a more dessert-themed board.
“If I were to add elements of dessert, definitely stick with strong chocolate and cherries, and perhaps some smaller cookies, like our beautiful macarons,” Kenney says. “You can also include fresh fruit and nuts here, pears, candied walnuts, and salted chocolate are a lovely combination.”
Finally, don’t be afraid to play around with interesting, unique flavors that will have your guests talking. Instead of your traditional strawberry jam or marmalade, try switching it up with Figs and Black Tea, Raspberry Rose, or Lemon Saffron. Normal honey can be swapped out for raw honeycomb, like this brand Savannah Bee, for a stunning presentation, and one cracker option could take the form of something less ubiquitous, like Italian taralli.
You can even make it vegan
In case you haven’t heard, the dairy industry has actually been on a pretty steep decline for over a decade, as consumers move toward more attractive alternatives (oat milk latte, anyone?). That means that gone are the days when you could only find dairy-free cheese in specialty shops. In fact, many of the country’s biggest cheese producers have begun throwing their hat in the vegan ring, too, in an attempt to stay relevant in the quickly changing marketplace.
The tastiest and most innovative dairy free cheese is still coming out of smaller, passionate independent purveyors, though. Many got into the process of making vegan cheese out of necessity—they are vegans themselves and couldn’t find anything they liked on the market. Or, like the creators of Rind in Brooklyn, New York, it was a matter of ethics.
“It comes down to the treatment of the animals,” says Rind co-founder Dina DiCenso. “You know, dairy is not a nice industry at all. There are a lot of reasons to go vegan other than health reasons. For whatever reason people decide to ditch animal products, that’s great, just as long as they do.”
Vegan cheese innovators like DiCenso and her co-founder Joshua Katcher are the reason why grocery shelves are now being stocked with attractive options like a vegan bleu, lapsang souchong tea-infused spreadable cheese, and more. Katcher also makes the point that those who are vegan-curious are welcome to mix and match dairy and non-dairy options on their charcuterie board.
Besides dairy, vegans also have to consider their dipping vessels when creating a charcuterie board that leaves out all animal products. Vegan crackers are an option, like Winter Wheat Potter’s Crackers or Almond Nut Thins by Blue Diamond. If you’d prefer a fresh baguette to rip and spread your cheese onto, those are dairy free as well. If you’re a strict vegan, honey is also a product that is off the table. Instead, try a substitute like date or agave syrup.
Build your board big to small
Any large, flat platter would work well for a charcuterie board, but keep in mind that people will be using a knife to cut into the cheese, so it's best to avoid using a platter that easily marks. A wooden cutting board can look great too, or a stone slab.
Once you have your ingredients gathered and a board picked out, you can start laying down your charcuterie elements. Start with the bulkiest pieces, like rounds of brie, large hunks of cheese, and saucers for jams and dips. Place them onto your board strategically, creating space between each one for your smaller items to fill.
Next, go in with your smaller wedges of cheese, and your fruit. If you’ve chosen cut fruit like apples or pears, Katcher recommends cutting thin slices on the diagonal and ditching the bottom rounded piece before splaying them out on the board for a clean look. Try making the slices curve around other elements to create a nice pop of color all around the board.
Sprinkle in your loose ingredients like crackers, crudites, nuts and chocolate, and then garnish however you’d like. We love the look of fresh herbs dotting the board, adding a vibrant green to the palette and even a nice scent. Bonus points because the herbs are edible, too.
“Most of all, have fun with it,” Kenney says. “It’s an artistic expression.”