Food and Drink

Go On, Make a Pretty Charcuterie Board

You'll definitely want to post your platter on IG once you've learned these tips.

Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist; Food Styling by Jenn de la Vega
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist; Food Styling by Jenn de la Vega
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist; Food Styling by Jenn de la Vega

It’s that time of year when we start seeing the Parade ‘o’ Charcuterie Platters on our Instagram feeds. It’s funny-some of them look intimidatingly elaborate and difficult to construct. But they’re basically just a bunch of meat and cheese thrown on a slate board. How hard can that be, really?

Well, I am here to tell you this party trick is completely accessible. You can do this. All you need is a set of guidelines to get started. And that’s where Jenn de la Vega comes in. She’s a caterer, former educator at Murray’s Cheese Shop, food stylist, and the list goes on. We tapped her to share her expertise on styling a charcuterie board.

The first thing I want to point out is that if you’re a beginner, start small. Jenn picked out a rectangular, 10-inch-long sized board for our demo.

Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist; Food Styling by Jenn de la Vega
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist; Food Styling by Jenn de la Vega
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist; Food Styling by Jenn de la Vega

Think visual interest when you buy your ingredients

Nowadays, at casual, unpretentious gatherings, a typical charcuterie platter includes sliced cured meat and/or pate and/or cured sausage (we like American-made Les Trois Petits Cochons), cheese, nuts, fruit, garnishes, and crackers, flatbread or sliced baguette. “You want different kinds of textures, colors, flavors, and munchy bits,” de la Vega says, so keep that in mind while you’re shopping.

“And if you’ve got a tight budget, don’t be afraid of specialty cheese and charcuterie shops,” she says. Those places can help you find affordable and familiar foods like brie or cured ham.

Prep your station

Set your cheese out an hour ahead so it has time to warm slightly and get a bit softer. That enhances its flavor. The pate and meat, on the other hand, should go out right before you’re ready to use them. De la Vega adds, “Charcuterie is like, now! Because oxidation makes it change color.”

Before you get started, take everything out of its packages. Cut up ingredients, separate cured ham from those little papers, and have everything out and easy to place. Pate usually comes in a flat rectangle or a brick, but you don’t have to put that whole thing out. De la Vega sliced a triangle shape of pate, and an odd shape of foie gras. You can always replenish your board with more later on. (Keep the rest wrapped in the fridge in the meantime).

Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist; Food Styling by Jenn de la Vega
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist; Food Styling by Jenn de la Vega
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist; Food Styling by Jenn de la Vega

Start big and work your way down in size

A tip I picked up from food stylist and Wall Street Journal cheese columnist Tia Kennan is to choose one, big showpiece item as your main focal point. Place that on your platter first, and then arrange everything else around it. 

That doesn’t mean your big piece is in the center-notice how de la Vega used the corner for her wheel of brie. Diagonals add visual interest. After you’ve placed your showpiece, follow with your next-largest ingredients, and so on, working to your smallest ingredients.

Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist; Food Styling by Jenn de la Vega
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist; Food Styling by Jenn de la Vega
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist; Food Styling by Jenn de la Vega

Build vertically

Pile your sliced meats upwards. “Height equals drama! Make it look like you just shaved it off the animal,” de la Vega says.

Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist; Food Styling by Jenn de la Vega
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist; Food Styling by Jenn de la Vega
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist; Food Styling by Jenn de la Vega

Scatter color and texture

Green garnishes like thyme and rosemary add contrast and texture. Place smaller ingredients like these dried sour cherries, pomegranate arils, and walnuts here and there, overlapping the larger elements. By the way, de la Vega tells us dried and fresh fruit helps break the fat in the cheese and meat. That’s also why you want to serve bubbles, seltzer and sparkling wine with your charcuterie. They help lift the fat off your tongue.

Sliced fruit like apples and pears are a good, less-expensive option that taste great with charcuterie, but they tend to brown over time. Spread a smear of jam right on your cheese and pate, since it goes with both. Jenn used Eat This Yum’s tomato and jalapeño marmalade. “People need to get more into savory jams,” she says. Add a dab of mustard to the side as well.

Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist; Food Styling by Jenn de la Vega
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist; Food Styling by Jenn de la Vega
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist; Food Styling by Jenn de la Vega

Let Loose

Feel free to break up larger crispbreads and crackers into smaller, irregular shapes and tuck them slightly under the cheese, letting them spill over off the platter.

Above all, don’t be too precious with your arrangement. Let it be a little bit unruly-after all, the goal is to have it completely demolished by your friends.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Adriana Velez is a former food editor at Thrillist.

Food and Drink

Why Makrut Lime Makes a Star Ingredient in Cocktails

The Southeast Asian citrus is intensely aromatic and pairs with rum, gin, tequila, and more.

Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks
Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks
Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks

I grew up with a makrut lime tree in my backyard, admiring the double leaves and dimpled citrus fruit that frequently made their way into our family dinners. Makrut limes, which are sometimes referred to kaffir limes (although the term is controversial and has been widely retired), are native to Southeast Asia, but somehow my mom willed a tree to grow in our Southern California home with great success.

To me, makrut meant savoury Thai food: steamed fish curry wrapped in banana leaves and sprinkled with chiffonade makrut, simmering tom kha gai with floating bits of the hand-torn citrus leaves, and glistening green curry accentuated by the plant’s aroma.

But to others, makrut is an ideal ingredient in cocktails and other drinks. Such is the case for Fish Cheeks, a Thai restaurant in Manhattan known for its seafood dishes and eclectic, complementary cocktail menu. Beverage director Beau Fontano knew he had to include makrut in his creations, especially because the ingredient is so prominent on the food menu. Makrut lime finds its way in several drinks, most notably as a garnish atop the Thank You Kha, a riff on the acidic coconut stew tom kha gai, and the Manao Mao, a rum-based drink that uses makrut lime bitters.

“I don’t love using the word tiki, but if you think of those tiki rum cocktails, makrut definitely works well in those,” Fontano says. “But I also love it in martinis-there’s something really clean about it. And with makrut lime, if you’re just using the leaves, you can do a lot of rapid infusions.”

Fontano only uses the leaves, because the rinds and juice of makrut limes are famously bitter. “Regular lime has a little bit more sugar content, so that’s why it’s much more approachable in cocktails. Makrut limes tend to be more dry,” he explains. “But when you use the leaves in cocktails, you just smack it to wake it up a little bit and it gets that nice citrusy, refreshing aroma which is really fun.”

The leaves are cut fresh, so each drink has the scent of makrut lime leaves wafting off of them. “I’m sure at one point I will get around to it and try to figure out how to use the juice,” he laughs.

Further north at Paper Tiger in Portland, Maine, makrut lime leaves are also prevalent in a cocktail called Something Scandalous, a tequila-based drink intended to be, in the words of bartender Nick Reevy, “crushed easily.”

Paper Tiger
Paper Tiger
Paper Tiger

“I went with tequila, specifically, because in Maine it’s 80 degrees and humid pretty much all summer,” Reevy explains. “So I made something you kick back easily. Agave has a really nice softness that elevates the makrut lime, and the main flavour in that drink is the Thai basil.”

The drink is an alluring shade of green and is rounded out by cinnamon syrup and falernum. “Makrut lime is really herbal and bright in a way no other citrus is,” Reevy adds. “It’s interchangeable with other limes, but it just adds this whole other depth of flavour.”Makrut lime has even made its way into hard seltzer, albeit a limited edition drop from Lunar. Founder Kevin Wong knew he wanted to add another citrus drink to his rotation as he witnessed the successes of hard lemonades, but already had a yuzu iteration. Makrut lime seemed like a natural follow-up.

Photo courtesy of Lunar
Photo courtesy of Lunar
Photo courtesy of Lunar

“It has a very intense citrus fragrance, almost perfumey or soapy,” Wong ponders. “Like I could see Le Labo putting out a makrut lime fragrance. It has such a commanding presence and body.”

To tamper down some of the boldness of the makrut lime, the hard seltzer uses makrut lime leaf extract, lime juice, and cane sugar. The aromatics of the lime are present without too much bitterness; instead, the seltzer is grassy, acidic, and dry. Wong recommends pairing the can with spicy foods, especially Szechuan dry pot.

The makrut lime seltzer is currently sold out, and Wong is unsure whether or not another batch is in the works. “I feel like makrut lime is the greatest secret unknown to the Western world,” he says. “It’s in medicine, candy, herbal drinks, cosmetics and aromatherapy. I think we did the seltzer too early, and I don’t know if the world is ready for us to bring it back yet. Maybe in a couple of years.”

But judging by the growing popularity of makrut lime in beverage menus, the comeback might be sooner than he expects.

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Kat Thompson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.

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