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Confessions of an Amateur Charcuterie Maker

March 16, 2020

Confessions of an Amateur Charcuterie Maker

“Mika, make a cheese board and write about it!”

Katie didn’t have to tell me twice. My roommate and I had already bought prosciutto and were planning on making a charcuterie board that week but now I got to do it for work (score!). How hard could it even be?... Just kidding. After the Cheese Chicks competition and looking at pics of boards for hours each week on social media, just making an amateur board seemed... challenging. It doesn’t help that I’m a food perfectionist, either. But that perfectionism meant I wasn’t about to back down from the challenge.

Step 1: Time to prep!

My first prep step was taken several weeks prior while visiting my parents. I had told my dad I wanted nothing more than a fancy log board to charcuterie (yes I just verbed charcuterie), so we made three of them. And by ‘we made’ I mean that I held the log while he cut off slices, sanded them, and treated them with olive oil.

I messaged the Cheese Chicks, my gold standard, over instagram and asked for advice. Here’s what they collectively told me:

  1. Place your ramekin, a small dish for baking or serving a portion of food, first (things like spreads or pickles)
  2. Cheese is next to make sure you get the most of it on the board. Remember, cheese is the hero of our charcuterie board. Make it present.  
  3. Cured meats come after that, arranged on the board like a “river”. Meat and cheese will always go together. 
  4. Crunch & etc. Crackers and any fruits you have or other accompaniments are last. These are the last bit of texture extremes. 

Step 2: Time to pick ingredients!

The three Beehive cheeses I knew I was going to use were: 

  • Barely Buzzed, an espresso and lavender rind rubbed cheddar I wanted for the color 
  • Seahive, a washed rind cheddar with honey and ancient salts I wanted for the taste and slight pinkish hue, and 
  • Pour Me A Slice, a cheddar infused with Basil Hayden’s bourbon that I wanted for its spice

I lucked out having the entire Beehive store to work with for accoutrements. Specifically, I wanted things I knew for certain would pair or taste good with the cheeses. Each cheese had a different pairing, so I needed a variety of things. Thankfully we have a lot of friends who make things we want to eat with our cheese that also pairs well with it! 

A breakdown of what I got and why I wanted it:

  • Glancing around our Uintah, UT storefront the first thing my eyes focused on were a box of Rustic Bakery cacao nib shortbread. Score! The chocolate would be perfect with the espresso lavender rub on Barely Buzzed.
  • Next to the shortbread were the Rustic Bakery artisan crisps. Literally every cheese can pair with those bad boys.
  • I stopped breathing when I saw the jar of Dilly’s spicy baby dill pickles. I had been desperate to try them with Beehive cheese after reading on Culture once that a savory cheddar paired with a pickle was extremely satisfying.
  • Naturally I didn’t think about it when I grabbed the Creminelli Casalingo. Like the crisps, the standard type of cured meat from Creminelli would pair with any cheese.
  • Last up, I knew I wanted Amour spreads. Seahive famously pairs well with fruit. 

Now to get additional cheeses, to add a variety in texture and milk type to the board. This was getting complicated, but I was in it to win it.

I drove from work straight to the Harmons at City Creek in Salt Lake City where I chatted with Matt, the incredibly helpful cheesemonger. He recommended:

  • Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk, a soft cheese with a beefy aroma 
  • Point Reyes Toma, a semi hard cheese with a grassy tang finish 
  • Silver Queen goat cheese with vegetable ash by Park City Creamery, a soft cheese with an earthy taste, and 
  • Chällerhocker Tufertschwil, a semi-hard cheese chosen to add something European to the mix 

Lastly, I asked for further accoutrement recommendations, in case I had missed something (I had, it was fruit). “Persimmons,” he suggested. Persimmons were in season and definitely in stock at the store. I thanked him profusely for his help and bee lined it to the produce section. 

There were no persimmons. 

I checked four more stores for persimmons because once my mind is set on something I can’t let it go, darn it! I couldn’t find them anywhere. I knew I couldn’t keep doing this to myself, so while at a Trader Joe’s I just purchased an apple pear, mangoes, blackberries, and two blood oranges to fill the persimmon shaped hole in my heart.

Step 3: Time to charcuterie!

Board 1: Barely Buzzed, Red Hawk, Chollerhoker. Tayberry jam, Dilly’s spicy pickles, Creminelli, both Rustic Bakery items.

I invited some pals over to join in on the fun (Beehive is best when shared, that’s why our motto is “Making Friends With Cheese”). Unfortunately the only one who could make it was Ben, who luckily is incredibly fond of cheddar. He was in for a treat.

“First we should decide what cheese we’re going to use,”  I said when he arrived.

“Is there a cheese we’re not going to use?” Ben asked.

“All cheese gets love in this household, Benjamin.” I took a dramatic pause, feeling courage coursing through me. “For the first board, let’s start with three.”

I followed the Cheese Chicks advice like scripture: I cautiously set my ramekins down first, one on either end so they were diagonal and balanced. One held pear lavender Amour spread, and the other the just-spicy-enough Dilly’s spicy dill pickles. I knew I wanted to start things off with Barely Buzzed because it pairs beautifully with chocolate, which I planned on setting down later so as to stay with the order I was told to do things. The Barely Buzzed was sliced like triangles with some rind on each cut. Now I needed a soft cheese for balance. I chose the creamy Red Hawk, with its pungent beefy aroma. I was so into it. I knew it would taste like perfection spread on the Rustic Bakery artisan crisps. Lastly I grabbed the Challerhocker, slicing it the same way I had the Barely Buzzed so they'd mirror one another. Ben set Creminelli slices down like a “barrier” around the Challerhocker and pickles, and I placed the Artisan Bakery crisps alongside it. As a finishing touch, Ben took one of my tiny ice cream tasting spoons and scooped some of the Red Hawk out onto the Creminelli “barrier” to make the cheese even more inviting.

Board 2: Seahive, Silver Queen. Apple pear, lavender pear spread, crostini, prosciutto, dried blood orange slices.

I wanted something more fruit focused for this go around. “Goat cheese will go with fruit, right?” I said out loud. Maybe to Ben, maybe to Aristaios the god of cheesemaking and honey. I dipped a blackberry into the Silver Queen’s paste. It was strong, but earthy, and went well together. Now we were talking!

I cut a quarter off the Silver Queen, placing the other ¾  on the board opposite a ramekin of lavender pear (it wasn’t so much a ramekin as the lid of the spread-- turns out the ramekins I owned were too tall), and “shooting” from the soft and creamy Silver Queen we had long strips of the sweet and creamy Seahive. On either side of that we set crostinis and apple pear slices. 

The board was missing color. I looked over at the dried blood orange slices I had made last second (always be prepared!), and dipped some in the Silver Queen then tried it with the Seahive. Yes, perfection all around! I carefully put a few slices underneath the strips of Seahive. That was the color I wanted. While I had done that, Ben rolled up a “bouquet” of prosciutto that he gently placed into the hole of the goat cheese ¾ wheel. YAAAASSSSSSS! We were so rocking this for first timers.

Board 3: Pour Me A Slice, Silver Queen. Cacao shortbread, salami, creminelli, salami, prosciutto, candied pecans.

What was left, cheese wise, was the semi hard cheddar Pour Me A Slice (it makes a knock out mac-n-cheese) and extra Silver Queen goat cheese. The bourbon spices of Pour Me A Slice mixed beautifully with the earthy Silver Queen. It was on point. I sliced the goat cheese into triangles to contrast the half circles of Pour Me A Slice Ben was creating using my cookie dough scoop as a makeshift cutter. 

At the top of the board we set the ramekin (Amour spread lid), spilling over the front with candied nuts (my secret weapon and perfect Pour Me A Slice pairing) leading to the last of the cacao shortbread. On either side of the ramekin (spread lid) we placed the cheeses, and flowing down from them, acting like land that followed the shortbread river, were Creminelli and folded over salami. We were proud of it.  


Step 4: Time to eat!

This was the best part, because the point of a charcuterie board is to eat it. Ben said it best with “I like this is a mix of cheddars, this is good scented. You smell it and think ‘this is a good cheddar’.” Couldn’t have agreed more. Ben decided to make a list of his favorite pairings (maybe pictured), most of which I agreed with. 

Our boards were solid, and we made a few realizations that night: Charcuterie is basically organizing, and it’s really hard to make a bad one. As long as you’re with friends, your charcuterie board will always taste most excellent.

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