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  • Writer's pictureIlysse Rimalovski

GET ON BOARD Words and Photographs By Ilysse Rimalovski

The art of grazing platters

Grazing platters have become high art, often high budget and entertainment itself. By letting your inner food stylist out, you can easily create a bountiful board that will engage your guests. Thanks to local specialty food retailers, the finest ingredients are readily available.

The “board” trend may be attributed to social media charcuterie artists who assemble meaty rosettes and meandering patterns almost too pretty to eat. But the traditional art of charcuterie dates back to 15th century France, rooted in simple meals eaten by European laborers that consisted of meats, cheeses, bread and produce.

This practice would later become part of high society culinary culture as a formal cheese course to end a meal. By the 1900s, it was the finger food of the American cocktail party.

Today, the board is adored for its flexibility, sociability, convenience and ease. Specialty ingredients can share the spotlight with grocery items. Even the most unskilled cook can create a masterpiece that tastes equally as impressive.

The secret? Be creative, have fun and please your palate while heeding your guests’ dietary needs. Even with limitations, there is ample space on the board to delight everyone.

Cheesemonger and SOMA Wheelhouse co-owner Leigh Friend will become your new best friend. Based in South Orange and Maplewood, her passion for cheese is contagious. What’s more, designing a grazing platter with her is an education.

Leigh Friend uses her extensive pairing knowledge to design cheese-forward platters that create unexpected flavor combinations. Photo: SOMA Wheelhouse.

In her book Composing the Cheese Plate: Recipes, Pairings, and Platings for the Inventive Cheese Course, Friend includes a pairing chart of cheeses and condiments that could become an event in itself (complete with recipes). Imagine a blue cheese alongside pink-pepper pickled rhubarb or a goat cheese with bourbon walnuts.

Extending the theory that “if you start with great, it will always be great,” she guides customers in discovering their favorite cheeses and pairing complementary ingredients to create “a third experience” that may be about flavor, texture, mouth feel, balance or a combination of them all.

Friend suggests offering cheeses that are made from different milks (cow, sheep, goat) and textures (one soft, one hard, one other) that include both familiar varieties and a surprise. Arrive ready to taste and engage in conversation. Leave with the perfect ingredients for building a bespoke tasting experience.

From smoked kalamatas to pear mostarda, the SOMA Wheelhouse offers an evolving selection of specialty foods to complement its lovingly chosen cheeses.

In downtown Maplewood, Amie Ruditz and Maggie Marotta have quickly made their Baker Street Market a staple. Customers can choose from sophisticated prepared foods and a variety of curated cheeses, meats and specialty foods. Handcrafted tabletop goods are available, too.

“To us, every board is a work of art,” says Marotta.

A variety of signature grazing boards can be ordered from the website, one piled high with chocolate and fresh berries, another with lemony house hummus and swirls of colorful crudité.

Carnivorous grazers can choose from a bounty of cured meats sliced to order. Maplewood’s N & K Prime Marketplace offers house-made Polish hams, kielbasa and smoked meats. For paper-thin prosciutto and fine Italian specialties, Mia Famiglia in Millburn has it all.

If Trader Joe’s is more your style, your guests will be well served. Overwhelmed? Apply the 3-3-3-3 rule and multiple-choice your way through varieties of cheese, sliced meats, accompaniments and starches by choosing your favorite three from each category.

The following “recipe” is an inspirational guide to creating your signature grazing experience as an appetizer before a meal serving a party of eight. Adjust for your guests and their dietary considerations. The board is your canvas.


Local Specialty Food Resources

Baker Street Market

96 Baker Street, Maplewood


Kitchen a la Mode

59 S Orange Avenue, South Orange


Mia Famiglia

277 Main Street, Millburn


N & K Prime Marketplace

1899 Springfield Avenue, Maplewood


SOMA Wheelhouse

@The Co-Lab, 57 S. Orange Avenue,

South Orange


@General Store Shops & Café,

1875 Springfield Avenue, Maplewood


Trader Joe’s

187 Millburn Avenue, Millburn


This marble condiment vessel from Kitchen a la Mode makes an ideal grazing gift (if you can resist keeping it for yourself).


Maker’s Choice Grazing Board

Serves 8

Maker’s Choice Grazing Board

Serves 8

Ingredients Guide

Cheese: 1 pound total (approximately 1/3 pound each) of assorted cheeses (choose 3 with varied textures and milks)

Soft: brie, chevre, camembert, gorgonzola, burrata

Firm: cheddar, Gouda, Fontina, Gruyère, pecorino

Unique: Taleggio, Reblochon, Harbison

Meats: 1 pound total (approximately 1/3 pound each) of thinly sliced meats (choose 3): Prosciutto, salami, bresaola, soppressata, hot coppa, cured sausage, ham, pâté

Condiments: 1 cup total (approximately 8 ounces) per condiment (choose 1 sweet, 1 savory)

Sweet: honey, fig jam, chutney, quince paste, mostarda, preserves

Savory: grainy mustard, herb pesto, olive tapenade, tinned fish

Breads and Crackers

1 baguette, sliced or torn into servings

1 package crackers

1 package specialty crisps



Fresh: radishes, carrots, cucumbers, endive, cherry tomatoes

Brined: olives, cornichons, caperberries, hot peppers, pearl onions

Roasted: peppers, tomatoes, garlic,

zucchini, mushrooms


Fresh: grape clusters, berries, sliced pears and apples, figs, kumquats

Dried: dates, apricots, prunes, pears,

cherries, orange slices

Nuts: Walnuts, candied pecans, pistachios, truffled macadamias, wasabi peas

Garnishes: Fresh herbs, edible flower blossoms, signage


Prepare: Gather ingredients and vessels beside your board or platter and create a mental map of what you will assemble. Ensure the surface is food safe and your hands are clean. Position larger

Food-safe boards and platters in varying shapes, materials and patterns are the foundation of presentation.

items first and use vessels as placeholders for condiments.

Place cheeses: Arrange cheeses, spacing them apart to allow for complementary ingredients around each variety. Slice a small wedge into a cheese round as an invitation. Consider placing runny cheeses on small plates.

Add meats: Shape the thinly sliced meats into rosettes, folds, and rolls and position them near the cheeses, leaving room for other ingredients.

Add condiments: Place sweet and savory condiments in small vessels and strategically position them on the board, each with an appropriate serving utensil.

Select vessels for condiments as part of the assembly process.

Fill remaining spaces: Add fresh and dried fruits, vegetables, nuts, bread slices and crackers. Offer extra baskets of bread and crackers nearby.

Final flourishes: Complete the board with additional serving utensils, toothpicks, perhaps handwritten signage, fresh herbs from your garden or a dish of pepper flakes.

Serve: The completed board is best served at room temperature and can sit safely for up to 2 hours indoors. Remember to take a photo of your final creation.

Ilysse Rimalovski is a well-seasoned home chef, host and creative producer living in Maplewood. She loves to teach how to entertain with freedom, style and confidence. Have food questions or need inspiration? Email or visit Ilysse’s free Food Matters Zoom Room most Fridays from 12:15-1:15 p.m.

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