Vegan 'Charcuterie' Boards: Everything You Need to Know
Charcuterie boards have taken over our TikTok and Instagram feeds, but the trend has largely left behind our vegan friends, as true charcuterie boards are mostly made using meats and cheeses. But there's plenty of delicious vegan ingredients to add to a plant-based board.
If you're vegan or vegetarian, dairy-intolerant, or just conscious of the climate crisis, a vegan 'charcuterie' board is an excellent eco-friendly option to try for your next social gathering. Whether it's an outdoor party, having just a few friends over, or a picnic, a vegan 'charcuterie' board can be enjoyed by everyone.
Now that people are able to gather again, putting together a platter can be a fun activity to do with your friends and family.
The charcuterie board trend picked up speed during the pandemic. Maddie Coticchia and Ellen Coticchia, two sisters from Cleveland, Ohio, started Sweet Brie Co. – a charcuterie board business – just last year right before the pandemic hit the U.S.
"With people staying home more, I believe they've had more opportunities to explore their interests and express themselves in creative ways," Maddie Coticchia said to EcoWatch. "Arranging food in a beautiful way can also be very therapeutic and a form of mindfulness."
Although not a vegan company, Sweet Brie Co. has been conscious of its environmental impact since the start. They compost, source flowers from a local regenerative flower farmer (sometimes from Maddie's backyard garden), and source more board ingredients from local farmers' markets and local cheesemakers.
What's a Vegan 'Charcuterie' Board?
In the traditional French meaning, charcuterie is quite literally a cured meat, usually ham, sausage, and bacon. However, though derived from a French food tradition, the word "charcuterie" has blossomed into a broader definition and buzzword in the United States.
Vegan charcuterie boards are also referred to as vegan snack boards, Antipasto platters, mezze platter, grazing boards, or smorgasbords.
What About the Board Itself?
For those who view charcuterie boards as a creative process, the board you use can elevate the look and feel of your edible masterpiece. It is an integral element of crafting your artistic platter and should be given attention.
Boards come in many shapes and sizes, so it's important to know what scenario your charcuterie board is being presented at, and how many people you plan to serve.
If you plan on making charcuterie boards regularly, it may be beneficial to invest in a quality, eco-friendly, and sustainably sourced board. Here are some sustainable options for your boards and plates:
Whenever possible, it is best to reuse the serving platters, boards, and plates in your kitchen.
"All the platters that we send out are reusable wooden platters so our clients actually keep them,'' said Jesse McRogers, owner of The Living Platter, a plant-based platter business based in the Toronto area. "We get lots of photos of them making their platters on their own, even after we've made the platter for them they keep using the board, which is really fun to see and a great way to know that it doesn't go to waste."
In addition to boards, you may want to consider the utensils used in tandem with the board. But if you're at home, pick your favorite utensils you already own and make those part of the board! Purchasing utensils from estate sales in your community is a fun and sustainable idea if you want more unique pieces for your vegan boards.
"We do little serving knives with all of our platters that are completely bamboo as opposed to like a plastic knife," McRogers said.
Sweet Brie Co. is also environmentally conscious when it comes to sourcing utensils. "We stay away from plastic as much as possible. It's easy to find wooden knives, honey dippers, and bamboo tongs these days," Coticchia said in an email to EcoWatch.
What About the Ingredients for the Vegan 'Charcuterie' Board?
From fresh local veggies to rich fair-trade chocolate, vegan board options are beautiful, vibrant and delicious.
Here are some delicious ingredients you can include in your next vegan creation:
- Fresh local vegetables: Veggies bring color and freshness to your board. Vegetables like peppers, carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and celery are all good palate cleansers, but are also tasty dipped in hummus or other dips you choose to incorporate into your board.
- Fresh local fruit: Fresh fruit can add a pop of sweetness among many salty ingredients. Considering fruit that's in season is a great way to make your board more eco-friendly.
- Plant-based 'meats': There are many plant-based 'meat' products out there. From Tuscan vegan deli slices to harmless ham, it's relatively easy to add meatless protein to your board.
- Vegan cheeses: There are a plethora of dairy-free cheese options out there, so it's worth exploring alternatives to traditional cheeses for your board. You can even make your own vegan cheese. McRogers recommends the brands Nuts for Cheese and Sainsbury's 'Gary' vegan cheeses. "Vegan cheeses come in a variety of forms; some can be cut into triangles, squares, or wedges, and some come in spread form," Coticchia added.
- Olives: Marinated green olives and Kalamata olives are great vegan options.
- Crackers and dippers: Delicate, airy, multi-grain crackers can add texture to your creation. Crackers, and other dippers like bread, provide a base for your vegan cheeses and meats. Slices of bread, such as from French baguettes, are a solid addition or alternative to crackers.
- Dips: The options are endless when it comes to incorporating dips into the mix. From hummus to tapenade, there's a dip that will please anyone. Red pepper dip is another option for those who like a little bit of spice.
- Nuts and dried fruit: Adding nuts and dried fruits to your board can add more texture and protein to your board. Try seasonal nuts to make your board more thematized and cohesive. Pumpkin seeds in the fall, for example, or walnuts in the winter can be fun seasonal complements to your array.
- Fair-trade chocolate: For a desert board, or to add a hint of sweetness to any board, try incorporating fair-trade chocolate.
- Decorative elements: There are a variety of decorative elements that can be added to your board to add visual flair and elegance. Edible flowers are colorful, and dainty, making a great garnish to impress friends and family.
These are core elements of a vegan charcuterie board, but feel free to experiment and explore other ingredients that add creativity, flavor, and art to your creation.
"We like to kind of have those classic items but then stepped up in a different way," McRogers said. "Using something like a garlic stuffed olive rather than just a plain olive so there's like that little element of surprise — or instead of just like a plain dark chocolate, getting one for the summer that's pineapple coconut flavored."
McRogers also said The Living Platter recently thought to incorporate vegan pesto on their boards.
Assembling Your Board
Now that you have all of your ingredients compiled, it's time to assemble your board.
If you're making vegan cheese, dip, or something that needs to be prepared from scratch, prepare that first so it's ready to go. Make sure to prep your fresh ingredients by chopping and cutting them, then set them aside.
After taking care of your fruits and veggies, gather your remaining ingredients. Find your board and then gingerly place small bowls filled with your dips or olives onto the platter. It's up to you on how you want to arrange the small bowls, but using an odd amount of bowls is more visually pleasing according to the rule of odds. Now fill your bowls.
Next, take your prepared fruits and veggies and place them on the board according to what flavors go together. For example, if you have sliced bell peppers, place them next to your small bowl of hummus. Some people opt to arrange the fruits and veggies into fan shapes. If you are using grapes, keep them on the stem; it looks natural and will help the grapes stay in place.
Crackers and other dippers should be grouped and placed in various parts of the board so they're easy to access from all angles of the board. You can fan your bread or crackers, line them up, or place them in bunches depending on the aesthetic you are aiming for.
"If I had one piece of advice, it would be to make sure that as you're placing all your items... it's nice to have everything kind of like touching and flowing together," McRogers said. "Just be wary of placing a wet item like an olive or a pickle next to something like a cracker, because it will make it soggy."
Once the core of the assembling is done, fill in the gaps of your board with dried fruit, nuts, or more of any ingredient you feel is lacking. Once everything is in place, add garnish, and edible decoration for visual interest.
For creative inspiration, McRogers said she has no shame "creeping" on other Instagram accounts to get the creative juices flowing.
"There's no shame looking at Pinterest and being like, 'Wow! I really love those colors' or 'I really love that theme that they did,'" she said. "Don't be afraid to find those Pinterest moments… and recreate it… from there you start to build your own style and figure out what really works well and what you like and don't like and how colors really play together on a board."
Making Your Board More Eco-Friendly
Besides the board and utensils you choose to use, there are several ways to make your charcuterie board more earth-kind.
- Use or compost your leftovers: Using excess fruits and veggies on your board can help fight food waste. If the fruit or veggies aren't "platter worthy," as McRogers says, they can be frozen and used in smoothies later on. Composting leftovers is a great way to prevent food waste from ending up in landfills.
- No honey: Honey is a controversial topic within the vegan community, so for a true animal product free board, avoid using it.
- Incorporate plant-based 'meat': Products like Tofurkey, vegan deli slices, and vegan salami can substitute for traditional meats on your vegan platter.
- Organic ingredients: Organic products exclude harmful pesticides and chemicals, and organic farming practices are healthier for the environment.
- Local ingredients: Shopping locally minimizes packaging and shipping, helps support small businesses, and you know where everything you bought comes from.
- Sustainably sourced nuts: Nuts can take a lot of water to grow. Walnuts, in particular, need almost 4.9 gallons of water per walnut. Nuts present a wide variety of sustainability concerns, and here's a great resource to help you choose what kinds to buy.
- Sustainable containers: Using reusable or compostable bowls and utensils can help reduce waste and ensure no plastic or non-biodegradable materials are added to landfills.
If you're looking for specific recipes or more ideas, here are a few great recipes you can find online:
- DIY Vegan Charcuterie Board
- How to Build a Vegan Charcuterie Board – No Sweat Vegan
- Epic Vegan Charcuterie Board – Emilie Eats
If you make a vegan 'charcuterie' board, tag us on our Instagram page. We'd love to see what you come up with and share your creation with fellow EcoWatchers.
Audrey Nakagawa is the content creator intern at EcoWatch. She is a senior at James Madison University studying Media, Art, and Design, with a concentration in journalism. She's a reporter for The Breeze in the culture section and writes features on Harrisonburg artists, album reviews, and topics related to mental health and the environment. She was also a contributor for Virginia Reports where she reported on the impact that COVID-19 had on college students.