Food boards and small bites have a long and varied lineage—French charcuterie, Korean banchan, Spanish tapas, even the English ploughman’s lunch. But in recent years, grazing has grown into a social media phenomenon and made folks like Olivia Carney (@charcuterie.chick) and Emily Delaney (@cheeseboardqueen) charcuterie influencers along the way.
“This is a socially acceptable way for adults to play with their food,” says Carney, who’s amassed more than 103,000 Instagram followers since 2019, when she began posting photos of boards she’d prepared for her family. In The Art of the Board (Gibbs Smith, Aug.), she shares concepts that celebrate the seasons, such as the “Grill Master,” an assemblage of pretzel buns, pasta salad, crinkle fries, and pineapple rings for Father’s Day, and the “Bountiful Berry Board,” with honey chèvre, raspberries, and lemon shortbread to welcome spring. The book teaches readers to “make something beautiful out of something simple,” Carney says. “Even if you’re having a girls’ night in and get takeout from your favorite Thai place, how do you make a spectacular presentation out of it—something that’s fun and also Instagrammable?”
Delaney (47,000 Instagram followers) takes a year-round approach in Around the Board (Alpha, Apr.): a “Sweetheart Board” with gouda and sopressata for Valentine’s Day; a Mother’s Day board of Humboldt Fog and salami “roses”; and for Thanksgiving, cranberry chèvre and persimmons. “We eat with our eyes first, and this style of eating is so visually focused,” Delaney says. “When you enter a room holding a board that’s beautifully arranged, everyone stops in their tracks.”
The book includes primers on cheese and charcuterie styles, slicing, and styling, and “to supplement Delaney’s sweet and snappy guidance,” PW’s review said, “every board comes with a photo helpfully tagged to explain where each ingredient would be best placed.”
Carney and Delaney are two of several board directors whose forthcoming books speak to this moment in the culinary zeitgeist.
“People tend to think that boards are a limiting thing: ‘It’s just meat and cheese, right?’ or ‘It’s just an adult Lunchable, right?’ ” says Elle Simone Scott, a food stylist, TV personality, and executive editor at America’s Test Kitchen. “But they’re not. Boards are limitless. They can be whatever you want them to be.” In Boards (ATK, Mar.), Scott proves her point with unexpected takes: a board-arranged version of steak frites, a cookie decorating station, a Bloody Mary bar. “Her aim is to offer an ‘interactive and low-key yet elegant way of presenting food,’ and she succeeds in spades,” PW’s starred review said. “This has instant classic written all over it.”
Boards and Spreads (Clarkson Potter, Aug.) by New York Times contributor Yasmin Fahr promises “ease, beauty, and simplicity,” she explains. “The book takes the ease of boards and spreads and applies it to fuller meals—dinner boards and breakfast boards.” Fahr includes what she calls “add-ons,” or 15-minute recipes “that make everything taste better,” which she deploys throughout the book—smashed olives, pickled shallots and jalapeños, and feta dip.
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Other books spotlight international plating and eating traditions. Complete Charcuterie (May) by the Coastal Kitchen, the test kitchen at Cider Mill Press, includes a variety of global cuisine–inspired dishes to zhuzh up any meat-and-cheese plate: coconut and cilantro chutney, Punjabi samosa, Turkish eggplant salad. Chapters include“Dumplings and Other Decadent Bites,” which has recipes for crab rangoon and arancini, and “From the Garden,” which takes inspiration from the seasonal harvest—roasted grapes and dudhi (bottle gourd) kofta.
Mediterranean Small Plates by Clifford A. Wright (Harvard Common Press, Aug.) leans into mezze, antipasti, and more. Chapters organize foods by country or region, such as tapas from Spain or mazza from the Middle East and North Africa. Wright, whose previous books include the James Beard Award–winning A Mediterranean Feast, makes liberal use of the foundational Mediterranean ingredients: olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, onions, and fresh herbs.
Otsumami, or “something to nibble/eat with a drink” in Japanese, is the subject of Otsumami by Atsuko Ikeda, an April release from Ryland Peters & Small. “Otsumami are a little-known small-plate category all on their own,” says Julia Charles, editorial director, food and drink, at RP&S. These small bites, such as lamb gyoza and katsu sando, are “designed to be enjoyed alongside drinks, just like Spanish tapas or Venetian cicchetti.” Ikeda, a chef and food photographer in London, includes plating suggestions rooted in Japanese aesthetics, and drink pointers, such as traditional sake and beer pairings, as well as her own cocktail creations.
Some authors stick close to the French definition of charcuterie—cooked, processed, or cured meats—and others reject this premise entirely, recasting it as a style of eating suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
From Scratch: Charcuterie (Quadrille, Apr.) by Tim Hayward, a restaurateur in the U.K. and a food writer for the Financial Times and other outlets, takes a traditional, DIY approach. He walks readers through fundamental techniques—curing, salting, drying—with recipes for pastrami, salami, paté, and more.
In Snacks for Dinner (Harper Wave, May), Lukas Volger rethinks the meaning of the evening meal, says Julie Will, v-p and editorial director at Harper Wave. Volger, whose previous vegetarian cookbooks include Start Simple and Bowls, defines the perfect snacky dinner as having seven components, such as “Centerpiece-ish” (e.g., fig and jam tart or squash sliders) and “Small but Mighty” (tomato salad or vegetable sipping broth), providing a road map for readers in creating a meal that is hefty and nourishing. “It reassures us that eating snacks for dinner isn’t something to be ashamed of,” Will says. “It can be an adult, responsible choice.”
It’s also a social one, and increasingly appealing, authors say, as we enter a new phase of the pandemic. “This style of eating isn’t new, but it’s something that creates community,” Boards and Spreads author Fahr says. “That’s what we need right now.”
Pooja Makhijani is a writer and editor in New Jersey.
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