The following recipe and photography is courtesy of Lauren Schulte. To see more of her bites and meals, visit her Instagram @TheBiteSizePantry.
The set up for a charcuterie board with flair should be easy and fun for any host or hostess to accomplish without fuss. When creating a board, it is important to make a fun and playful display that keeps you engaged and not overwhelmed. Working with color from a variety of different cheeses, meats, nuts, berries, spreads and crackers is key to create an eye-catching aesthetic. It’s even more special to use local ingredients so that your guests can experience the area’s specialties.
For this Midwest inspired charcuterie board, I was inspired by the smokiness in the air from the fires burning in our fireplaces during these colder months. I used smoky-flavored cheeses alongside spiced nuts, smoked sausage and toasted crackers. Choosing cheese can be a daunting task due to the overwhelming selections some stores offer, but Heinen’s offers the expertise that takes the intimidation out of cheese shopping. Never fear because Heinens Cheese Experts are here! They walked me through all of their local cheeses from the Midwest region and were knowledgeable about the flavors and textures of each. Thanks to their help I came home with the following:
Cleveland- Made Cheeses (Available at Cleveland and Chicago Heinen’s Locations)
- Old Brooklyn Cheese Co. Smoked Paprika Punk with Garlic – Smokey and smooth. The paprika and garlic notes of this cheese are superb flavors.
- Old Brooklyn Cheese Co. Teffenhardt and O’Tooles – Slightly creamy with a little bite and tastes similar to Romano cheese with a sharper taste. I love this one!
- Mayfield Road Creamery Pepper Havarti – Not too much spice and very nice. This one is a firm cheese with low and slow heat.
Chicago- Made Cheeses (Available at Cleveland and Chicago Heinen’s Locations)
- Deer Creek Wisconsin Blue Jay – This one won’t leave you singing the blues. I love a good bleu and this one did not disappoint. It has a bold flavor of pine and juniper throughout, with a slightly crumbly nature, which is typically true of a bleu and pairs really nicely with sliced apples or dark fruit.
- Widmer’s Cheese Wisconsin 4 Year Aged Cheddar – I love a sharp cheddar! This 4 year aged beauty has a delicious bite to it that I want bite over and over again.
- Carr Valley Cheese Wisconsin Apple Smoked Cheddar – Smokey cheese, yes, please! This one has a subtle smoky sweetness with the hints of apple. It’s simply delicious and a nice addition to any cheese plate.
To accent all of these amazing cheeses, Heinens offers a wonderful variety of specialty nuts and jams/spreads. The Marcona Almonds are a “cheese board essential” and are what I decided to use on my board. I picked Rosemary and Smoked Paprika almonds which play well with the smoky nature of some of the cheeses. Each almond is packed with flavor because of the unique spice blend that coats it. These almonds are imported from Spain and made the trip overseas to help round out your cheese plate.
If you are like me and like a little something sweet to spread on a cracker topped with a slice of cheese, I recommend using the brand Bonne Maman, which you can find at Heinen’s. These French-manufactured jams and spreads are a nice addition to ground your board and should be placed in the center with a knife or spoon for serving.
Okay, now that you have your “ingredients” it’s time to create the actual board. It’s easy, I promise! All you need to do is follow my simple steps for assembly.
1. Pick a board, platter or plate to be your base. There a lot of fun shaped platters that you can buy, or you can assemble the toppings in the shape of your choosing such as a Christmas tree, your home state (I’m from Ohio as you can probably tell from my board selection) or fun holiday or season shapes with the rinds of your cheese.
2. Use small cups, bowls and plates to give your board more dimension and elevation. There will be plenty of different textures and tastes on your board, but when you add these extra small details, it really helps take your platter to the next level. I placed Kalamata and jalapeño-stuffed olives, which I picked out from Heinen’s antipasto bar, in two small bowls on opposite ends of the board. I left a little space between the bowls and the edges of the board so that I could nestle other ingredients around them.
3. Place cheese wedges on the two open edges opposite of the bowls. You can leave them both whole or cut a couple slices of each and nestle the slices up against the wedge of cheese. When you add a wedge of cheese, make sure to have the cheese cutters and knives nearby for your guests. In this case, I tucked each under a wedge of cheese, but you can also stick them in the top of the wedge for a different look.
4. If you add meat, pre-slice it into bite-size portions for easy grazing. I chose a smoked sausage from the deli counter at Heinen’s, which I sliced at home. To give your board a nice flow, place the meat in a line across the center of your board from one edge to the opposite edge. This gave the board a separation so that I could differentiate the location of the Cleveland-made and Chicago-made cheeses.
5. Pre-slice the remaining cheeses to give guests options. Nestle these slices around the bowls of olives on your plate. This is why I noted to leave space around the bowls from at the edges of the board. You are now going to fill up the board by pilling the cheese slices up to the edges of the board.
6. Crackers come next. Make sure to choose a couple different shapes and varieties of crackers to give your guests options. I chose a thin whole wheat square cracker and a round buttery cracker. I did not include a gluten-free cracker on this board, but it is something to keep in mind for guests with dietary restrictions. Place your crackers in a line following in the same direction as the meat on your board.
7. Fill the remaining open spots with Marcona Almonds. Simply use a handful or two of these almonds to fill in any open spaces. Make sure to push them up against the surrounding cheeses so that there is no open space on the board.
8. If you choose to add a jam or spread, place it in the middle of your board with a serving utensil nearby. The Cherry-Blackberry spread from Bonne Maman was placed where the city of Columbus, OH would be on my board. FUN!
9. Garnish with fresh herbs and fruit. Now that your board is almost complete you can add a couple more elements to create texture. I choose fresh herbs and fruit and nestled them around and under the different elements of my board. Apple slices and rosemary were the perfect compliments to the different flavors of nuts and cheese on my board.
Voila! Would you look at that! With a few simple steps and a bounty of delicious locally-made cheeses from Heinen’s, we have successfully created a masterpiece of edible art! With your newfound cheese skills, you are ready to elevate any holiday gathering you attend this season.