The art of charcuterie

Originally written for Quench Mag

In this day and age, the average cheese plate will no longer do. It’s all about the charcuterie boards.

The term charcuterie comes from France, directly translating to ‘delicatessen’ and involves a branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products. Although the term specifically refers to the cooking of meat, the connotations of a charcuterie board have extended well beyond that. A charcuterie board of the 21st century would classically be bursting with cheeses, fruits and breads as well as the cooked meats, offering a diverse and complex meal. They are all the rage right now and we have to wonder why.

Over the past 5 years, you may have noticed a growing trend of artfully designed cheese boards on social media and I believe that it’s because of this that the art of a charcuterie board is the new way forward. Instagram accounts such as @cheeseboardandchill and @cheeseboardqueen have amassed thousands of followers whilst @thatcheeseplate has reached an incredible 260k. Tik tok has also become overrun with cheese board makers as they post quirky videos of the steps they take to create these beautiful boards.

“Cheese plates can be an important form of artistic self-care.”

The founder of @thatcheeseplate, Marissa Mullen has even gone on to releasing her own bestselling book called That cheese plate will change your life which delves into the art of cheese boarding. On their website they’ve even stated that ‘Cheese plates can be an important form of artistic self-care.’ The book also includes the method of ‘cheese by numbers’ which is a simplified formula designed to help an amateur foodie in creating a perfectly well balanced and bursting board.

The key steps are: Cheese, Meat, Produce, Crunch, Dip and Garnish and the idea is that you lay out your board following this order in a step-by-step, fool proof fashion. I decided the best way to test just how easy this method was to simply try it myself! I love cheese and charcuterie a lot and I’ve often enjoyed making up a board for my family, so I was excited to increase my skill level. But most importantly, who doesn’t want a great excuse to use cheeseboard making as a form of artistic self-care?

As I am a student and cheese can be very expensive, I knew this had to be a budget board. So I popped into Tesco in hopes of finding some cheap and tasty goodies and I wasn’t disappointed!

The photos above depict the steps I followed when making my charcuterie board. I started with cheese – Camembert, cheddar and manchego. Followed by meat – chorizo slices. Then produce – grapes. Crunch – The corner deli co’s smoked paprika corn and The artisan bread companies tomato and sweet paprika bruschetta. Dips – caramelised onion chutney. Garnish – sprigs of rosemary.

I was so pleased with the result, it looked almost as decorative as the ones I had seen online. I found that the numbers method worked so well as it offered a clear-cut way of arranging the board and fitting all the food items in. This method is easily applied to any ingredients you want, meaning you can adjust the price point and taste to your preference.

After making this board, I am aware of the things that I felt could be improved on. The colour scheme of my board was extremely orange, saved only by the rosemary, and I believe this is something that could be adjusted by adding to the produce. More colourful items such as cucumbers, figs and strawberries would have added a well needed pop to my board.

Of course we baked the camembert!

The effort involved was definitely worth it due to the impressive reactions of my friends and family, and the board itself was the perfect size for a lunch for two. It offered the variety that a regular cheese board does not, and the idea of produce means you can make it a lot healthier and justifiable.

So. Charcuterie boards… are they the way forward? Many people could have been put off by their complex and boujee look, but Instagram accounts like @thatcheeseplate and their @cheesebynumbers methods have opened this world up to basic foodies like you and me. I would feel confident to present the board I created at a dinner party and would happily bask in my guest’s compliments. They are designed well to offer a perfectly balanced meal/snack with each of the steps bringing something new to the table. I would definitely recommend trying to make one yourself by following this method, don’t be put off by it’s false bravado!

Post lockdown health kick

Written for Quench student mag

For me, lockdown will always signify an unprecedented amount of binge snacking and stress eating. Those early, uncertain days were passed with films and chocolate as I lost all motivation and any concept of the word ‘health’. Now that lockdown is lifting and uni is looming, I am all too aware of the consequences my mental and physical health has faced and I’m ready to kickstart a new and healthy beginning!

“Meat, carbs and snacking are my weaknesses”

One of the methods I find best for dieting is not to remove unhealthy food from my diet but to try and replace them with a healthy option. Going cold turkey from your favourite meals and snacks can be extremely challenging, so, I find closely substituting them a lot more realistic. Meat, carbs and snacking are my weaknesses so I have listed a few different methods I use to try and combat these addictions, starting with meat.

Fatty meat replacements

I absolutely love a juicy burger, but all that red meat can take its toll and I find a falafel burger a delicious and healthy compromise. You can buy them everywhere, but, if you have a blender, they are also ridiculously easy to make. 

Put in a blender; 400g can chickpeas – rinsed and drained, 1 small chopped, 1 chopped garlic clove, handful of flat-leaf parsley or curly parsley, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, ½ tsp harissa paste or chilli powder, 2 tbsp plain flour. Once well combined shape into four patties and simply fry in sunflower oil. To reduce the carbs, I like to serve with some homemade buckwheat flour and yogurt flat breads, but you can serve in a burger bun to channel a traditional burger! They go well with a tomato salsa or a beetroot tzatziki, which is a great way to pack in some more veg!

“Many people (including myself) are reluctant to give up meat completely”

Red meat is well known to negatively affect your diet and although meat free swaps can be successful, many people (including myself) are reluctant to give up meat completely. Swapping beef mince for healthier minces such as pork and turkey can make extremely successful bolognaises and burgers with a lot less calories and fat. This is a more simple and subtle swap than a meat free one and it’s extremely effective to help regain any loss you’ve made to your physical and mental health from a lockdown binge.

Carb reduction

My diet is extremely carb based and I’m forever looking for ways to reduce my pasta, rice and potato consumption. Replacing some of these with grains such as cuscous, bulgar or quinoa can help fill you up whilst also adding some variety to your diet. Adding a small amount of olive oil, salt, pepper and some herbs to these grains creates a simple but effective dressing, turning it into a tasty, healthy and substantial side dish. Equally, you could use the grains instead of rice with a curry to partially reduce your carb intake.

Similar to swapping a beef burger for a falafel burger, I’ve enjoyed swapping a regular pizza for a cauliflower pizza. This not only reduces carb intake massively, but it also increases the amount of veg you can sneakily slip into your diet. Although it sounds complicated to make, this recipe is not too difficult to follow, as long as you have a blender and a clean tea towel.

Heat your oven to 200C and remove the leaves from one 750g cauliflower and trim the stalk end, then cut into chunks. Blitz half the cauliflower in your blender until finely chopped, like rice. Chuck this into a bowl and repeat with the other half of the cauliflower. Tip the cauliflower in a bowl, cover with cling film and microwave for 5-6 mins until softened. Tip onto a clean tea towel, leave to cool a little then scrunch up the tea towel and squeeze as much liquid as you can out of the cauliflower. Transfer this to a clean bowl and stir in 100g of ground almonds, 2 beaten eggs, 1 tbsp of oregano and plenty of seasoning. Line a baking tray with baking parchment and grease with oil. Mound the cauliflower mix into the centre of the tray, then use a spoon and your hands to spread out into a 30cm round. Make it a little thicker at the edges to create a crust. Bake for 15-18 mins until golden brown and starting to crisp a little at the edges. You can then top the pizza base as you would a regular pizza with a tomato sauce, cheese and any topping you fancy (a great opportunity to bump up your veg intake even further). Once topped, turn the oven up to 240C and put the pizza back into the oven and bake for a further 10 minutes and the cheese has melted to your liking. Then enjoy your pizza guilt free!!

Saying no to snacking!

“If a kale chip is too much for you, going for an oven baked crisp option is still making a positive healthy change!”

Snacking is probably my biggest downfall – especially when it comes to crisps and chocolate. If I end up with a big bag of crisps or a packet of M&Ms next to me, I really struggle to stop myself devouring the entire thing. When it comes to food like this, it’s difficult to replace it with something healthy that is equally as moreish and enjoyable. There are certain fruits that I find are a decent replacement and can do the job such as purple grapes and pomegranate seeds. Their size makes it easy to slowly pick at them as you watch tv and their sweet sharp flavour is reminiscent of sweets. Kale chips are easy to make and are very healthy, but they are extreme and don’t necessarily have the same effect as a regular crisp. If a kale chip is too much for you, going for an oven baked crisp option is still making a positive healthy change!