The art of charcuterie


Courtesy of Katie Donavan

Wayne and Donavan’s friends convinced the two to craft a charcuterie board their board included brie toast and crackers, brie and cheddar cheese, grapes, strawberries, kale, almonds and craisins. The friends spent time together while making the board and had a long conversation while devouring the board. Donavan photo.

It is easy to imagine walking into an art gallery show and seeing a catered cheese plate with generic cheeses and meats and plain crackers, but imagine walking into a college study party or wine night and seeing an extravagant charcuterie board carefully crafted to perfection. 

At DePaul University, this isn’t hard to imagine as it is a reality for many students. Indulging in the charcuterie renaissance serves not only as an experimental meal but a stepping stone to adulthood.

Charcuterie (shar-koo-tuh-ree) is the art of assembling a wide array of cured meats to be paired with cheeses, assorted bread, and crackers, fruits and vegetables. Recently, there has been a rise in popularity of charcuterie boards with many grocery stores selling artisanal arrangements, restaurants adding the plates to menus, and with new social media, influencers flaunting their creations.

However, this trend is not aberrant as food trends are common in the food industry. Adjunct professor at DePaul University, Michael Lynch, teaches courses on restaurant management as well as the famous wine class and understands the nature of food trends.

“By their nature, trends are something that comes and go, similar to fads. If a trend emerges into the mainstream, it is no longer a trend,” Lynch said. “Then tastes change, and the time for a new trend was at hand.”

Charcuterie boards and basic cheese plates usually withstand food trends, with these boards being featured on most menus at upscale restaurants.

 “Charcuterie boards and cheese plates are a great idea, but they have their shortcomings. The first that comes to mind is that these are rarely the entree; they either appear as the appetizer or after dinner,” Lynch said. “They do require special plating, but the plating could be used for something else, if necessary. Charcuterie boards and cheese plates have been around for a while in different forms.”

Maggie Johnson, or also known as MagMeals on both TikTok and Instagram, is one of the most popular TikTok charcuterie content creators with 245,000 followers on TikTok and all her videos totaling 6.5 million views altogether.

 Johnson, now 23, started to make basic charcuterie boards when she was 16 and started with simple pairings like salami and prosciutto, with sharp cheddar and gruyere cheeses, crackers, dried fruits and nuts and peppers and olives. Once Johnson perfected the art, she began to experiment with other pairings on her TikTok. 

“One of the latest boards I did was a pancake board,” Johnson said. “It included potato pancakes, bacon, strawberries, blueberries, a cream cheese spread and a strawberry spread. It is quite different from other boards I’ve done before, but it is always fun to experiment with new pairings.”

While on the surface, charcuterie boards might look like boring cheese and meat pairings, the boards can be much more than what meets the eye. Lynch claims that one of the main issues with charcuterie boards is the inherent lack of versatility.

Courtesy of Joey Cahue
One of the many of the charcuterie boards that Cahue has made over the years. This board includes salami, crackers, cashews and an assortment of cheeses.

“I rarely see selections for charcuterie boards and cheese plates that delight me when I dine out. That’s me. I have a broad, well-experienced palate, so you have to work hard to delight me,” Lynch said. “I do not think that cheese plates have caught on as a dessert offering yet. That is a shame. They can be a great way to end a meal and, with the correct beverage pairing, can be amazing.”

The versatility of charcuterie was what made Johnson begin crafting her own charcuterie creations after she realized that it could be more than just meat and cheese combinations.

“At first glance, charcuterie looks so basic, but when you look closer, there are a lot of possibilities and opportunities that come along with it,” Johnson said. “Charcuterie mixes culinary with creativity, and while most of the time you do not have to cook or bake with charcuterie, but you can. The creative element not only comes in when placing and arranging the board itself, but when you are planning for the board, and in my case too when I am making the TikToks.”

The mix of culinary and creativity when crafting charcuterie led Johnson to create TikToks to share her boards with the world. Johnson posted her first charcuterie board TikTok on October 25, 2019, and that TikTok has been viewed over 1.6 million times. Johnson has been quite overwhelmed with the positive response since them and has been able to grow her personal brand.

 “I started selling boards about a year ago personally, but now since the TikToks have blown up, I’ve received so many more orders,” Johnson said. 

While some might argue that charcuterie boards are not a trend, it does seem that this food trend has become increasingly popular for young millennials and Generation Z individuals. DePaul senior, Joey Cahue is one of many who has taken a part of the culinary trend.

 Cahue started to make charcuterie boards when she was in high school before there was any hype and began to prepare boards for family functions.

“My family hosts all the holidays, and my parents love hosting, so I started to love it, too. When my mom prepares appetizers, charcuterie boards are always a must,” Cahue said. “One Christmas Eve, my mom was busy preparing the main course dishes and asked me to make the charcuterie board myself. I wanted it to be aesthetically pleasing, so I looked up ideas online and ran with them, and that’s what inspired me to make my first one.”

Since Cahue made her first board when she was 17, she has made about 30 different boards of different variations.

“I volunteer to bring them to every function involving food or even wine nights. Some are bigger than others, especially for holidays and family parties,” Cahue said. “Making them is relaxing in a way, even though I know it’ll get eaten up and dismantled.”

However, charcuterie boards have been a well-kept secret between hostesses and moms across the world, up until recently, when a niche community of charcuterie influencers took TikTok by storm. With relaxing short videos that utilize elements of ASMR to capture a dedicated audience, opening up a new world to Gen Z.

Katie Donavan, a junior student at DePaul University, is one of the many who find these TikToks not only relaxing but aesthetically pleasing. 

“I think they are fun to watch,” Donavan said. “Having things set up so nicely is definitely an aesthetic, but it is also calming and relaxing.”

Courtesy of Maggie Johnson
One of the more experimental boards Johnson has created. This board includes pancakes, bacon, strawberries, blueberries, a cream cheese spread and strawberry sauce. Johnson made this for brunch with her friends.

Much like Cahue, Donavan grew up making charcuterie boards with her mom for family events and small gatherings with friends. Still, many Gen Z individuals might not have known what a charcuterie board was before seeing them on TikTok. 

“For sure, I feel like Gen Z probably didn’t know what they were until TikTok – unless their parents made them. But since TikTok has such a large Gen Z population, then Gen Z kids and other TikTok users most likely see them on the For You page considering many of them go viral,” Cahue said. “Since it’s TikTok and most people get their content from the For You page, they’re most likely to come across at least one of the videos at some point.”

Since Johnson started posting her TikToks the charcuterie community on TikTok has grown and many others have joined in, including Cahue, who has made her own TikToks. 

“I saw [the] TikToks of them, and I was like, wow, this is a great idea. I make these all the time and never thought to record myself doing it,” Cahue said. “I love seeing what people put on them and how they pair their meats and cheeses together. It’s a great place to get inspiration and ideas for my own boards.”

Since seeing the charcuterie TikToks pop up on her for you page, Cahue began posting her own charcuterie inspired videos. Much like Cahue and Donavan, DePaul junior Elizabeth Wayne loves the charcuterie TikToks. 

When Wayne was young, she would help her mom put together cheese boards on a special plate, which was an indicator that guests were coming over or would see them at her parent’s art gallery. 

“I think it’s so weird it’s almost like young people trying to masquerade as adults,” Wayne said. “Its such a thing that is associated with women in their mid-40s and it’s just these 22-year-olds going to Trader Joes and learning how to plate this stuff. It’s like trying to force yourself to become an adult by doing this thing that is seemingly adult.” 

However, Wayne enjoys watching the charcuterie TikToks for their calming aspect. Despite helping her mom make boards, Wayne has never made a charcuterie board until her friends, including Donavan, convinced her to make one and thoroughly enjoyed the process. 

“The process was a really fun bonding experience for me and my friends. From going to the store to get the supplies to assembling, and eating it and talking after, the whole experience was a fun thing for us to do,” Wayne said. “I would definitely do it again, probably for a wine night or something like that.”

Wayne and Donavan’s charcuterie board included brie and cheddar cheese, various crackers, strawberries and grapes, and was garnished with kale, craisins and almond halves. However, Johnson believes that charcuterie is not limited to just cheese and meats and can include whatever one may desire.

“Typical cheese and meat boards are great and please the masses — however, it’s more fun to get creative with it and try new and original pairings,” Johnson said. “I think I have two different approaches to charcuterie boards: classic and quirky.”

Cahue and Johnson both recommend for beginners in the craft of charcuterie to start off with a basic board with classic and straightforward pairings which include prosciutto, salami, sopressata, Brie, Gouda, goat cheese, white extra sharp cheddar, gruyere, crackers, dried apricots, grapes, almonds, pecans, pepperoncini peppers and Kalamata olives. 

It might seem like a lot to include on one board, but Cahue says, “but who wouldn’t want a loaded charcuterie board?”