Artfully styled snacking boards are everywhere these days — even in Halloween costume form at Party City with a photo-realistic wooden board tunic and removable 3D plush cheese pieces. If you’d rather serve a board than dress up as one, Long Island’s board experts offer tips on putting a holiday-themed beauty together:
CHOOSE A SURFACE: Coffin-shaped trays like the ones used by Joann Sessa of Lindenhurst (Charcuterie Babe on Instagram) are available at the arts and hobby chain Michaels. For an extra-scary effect, Sessa lays down a plastic skeleton inside her tray before arranging ingredients around it. But any board you already have will do, since its surface will be entirely covered with edible goodies. Instead of buying something new, Tiffany Latino of the Babylon Cheese Cellar suggests looking for vintage trays and platters at secondhand shops to give your board a spooky Gothic look, or repurpose an old Ouija board, covering it tightly in plastic wrap and placing pre-sliced cheeses and meats on top. The most sustainable option, says Latino, and the most practical for a large party: simply roll out some food-safe paper on a table or countertop and assemble your spread sans tray.
SET A THEME: Corrina Cafarelli (The Charcuterie Queen), urges restraint when choosing items. Instead of throwing a whole rainbow of colors on your board, consider a palate of alternating dark purples (grapes, blackberries), oranges (Cheddar, clementines), and creamy whites (crackers, popcorn) for a moody, aesthetically pleasing presentation. Sessa has used black (licorice), red (salami, raspberries, strawberries), and white (cubed or sliced cheese) to great effect for Halloween. Catie Vignola, who builds creative candy, cheese and meat boards through her Rockville Centre-based business, Gather and Graze, is more of a kitchen sink-type of designer, but visually unites items as various as Cheddar cheese slices, yogurt-covered pretzels, and Oreo cookies by attaching edible googly eyes to them, giving her riotous boards an attractively cohesive look.
GATHER INGREDIENTS: Not sure where to start? Larger pieces of cheese can dictate the way a board shapes up, says Cafarelli. Choose cheeses with different colors and textures. Bright orange Cheddar is great for Halloween. Port Wine Derby, with its purple marbling, is spooky like the holiday. Latino likes green pesto Gouda, which can be cut into Frankenstein shapes with a cookie cutter. Vignola suggests thinking seasonally at the supermarket, picking up persimmons, figs, and other unusual fruits to place around the cheeses. Heirloom carrots in shades of purple and gold can also bring freshness to your platter, says Latino. Experts agree that it’s OK to mix savory and sweet items where it makes sense. Thoughtful pairings will elevate your board to gourmet status. Latino advises customers on how to pair particular cheeses with chocolate, pumpkin chutney, kettle corn, or caramel sauce for maximum impact. Some combinations that Sessa likes: Parmigiano-Reggiano, prosciutto, and honey; Manchego with dates and almonds; Brie with fig jam.
ARRANGE YOUR BOARD: Cafarelli advises starting with the largest items first, setting your bigger pieces of softer cheese (or arrangements of harder sliced cheese) apart from each other on the board. Place meats, attractively rolled, layered or shaped into roses (the internet has easy how-tos) next to the cheeses. Fan crackers, breadsticks, and/or sliced baguette around the meats and cheeses. Smaller items like olives and nuts might be used to fill in spaces, or could be placed in small bowls (a great way to use little plastic or ceramic jack-o'-lantern containers), to keep the board neat and prevent your Camembert from mingling flavors with your mini M&M's. Vignona likes to buy little pots of honey and jam from nearby makers to give her boards a local flavor.
STYLING TRICKS: Touches of whimsy are welcome at Halloween, even at an adults-only event. Vignona shops Marshall’s and HomeGoods for unique Halloween-themed cookies, crackers, and candies to fill out her boards. Gummy teeth and foil-wrapped chocolate skeletons are some of her finds. Cafarelli likes the bat- and ghost-shaped potato chips from Trader Joe’s. Latino suggests wrapping a small wheel of Brie in strips of puff pastry, and baking, to resemble a mummy’s head. Sessa covers a small plastic skull with prosciutto, placing olives in the eye sockets, for a super creepy effect.