You want your meat board to be a statement of your ambition. Not as a cook, but as an eater. If you can avoid it, don't just let this be a venue for a dinner plate. You want a board that seems deliberate and larger than life. Wood is good. But so is slate or stone or anything smooth and safe for food. In this moment, when you are putting together a board, you are not a chef, nor even a cook. You are an artist in front of a fresh canvas, but your paints are going to be the foods that you most love.
Cheese and Things that Cheese Likes
The board you put together can––thank god we can all say this now––be whatever you want it to be. We are long past the age of requirements and decorum. People usually first imagine cheese as the "main" ingredient for a board, and that's a fine place to start. But don't let tradition hold you to what your cheese board can look like. And feel free to disregard tradition––you don't need to restrict yourself to 3-4 cheese of increasing sharpness. Feel free to feature all of the cheese that you like. What goes with cheese? Well, whatever you wish. Fruit is a no-brainer here: grapes, pears, maybe something unexpected like a kiwi that you've intentionally paired with a sharp, sheep-milk cheese. I always think parmigiano is reminiscent of pineapple. The point is go nuts. And on that point, actually include nuts, especially if you can find some that actually taste like something. We vote pistachios, pecans, walnuts, or quality almonds.
in more of a "meat" mode? Feel free to let cheese play second-fiddle. Go to your deli counter and pick out the 5 or 6 meats (preserved, smoked, fermented, whatever) that speak to you. Prosciutto may seem obvious. So maybe go with a smokey Speck instead. Salami or sausages of any type that appeals to you is a good thing to include. And don't forget to let your creativity run wild here. Paté or other kinds of terrines and forcemeats are amazing things to include on an autumn board. Smoked salmon or trout is not out of bounds on a board like this––fish is a meat, according to right-thinking people. Alongside meat, consider adding some interesting takes on vegetables. Pickles are a good place to start, especially if you are thinking out of the box with what works as pickles––think of pickled onions, brussel sprouts, or radishes alongside standard cucumbers. I, for one, never turn my nose up at a roasted pepper or a grilled piece of zuccihini. And if, into this mix, you want to add some fresh mozzarella or a bit of goat cheese, that's completely fine––no one said that a meat board couldn't exist if cheese lived there too.
How about toppings?
Have you heard of hot honey? If you have (and you have now!), and you find yourself in a place where a goat cheese covered cracker can be covered in it, you should do that. Equal parts sambel olek and apricot jam also creates a delicious spicy/sweet condiment that is perfect for cheese, fruits and nuts. Pickles and delicious meats do super well alongside a whole grain mustard. Some herbs to go with meat and cheese is completely worth it––basil leaves alongside mild cheeses, maybe some dill to put with cured meats. It's possible you could veer into dangerous territory––I don't think nut butters, for example, have any role alongside meat, but if you're really committed, you can really make anything work.
The great thing about an autumn board––cheese, meat, veggie, inbetween––is that you get to make the board you like. And in the process, you get to showcase your own tastes, your own creativity, and your own love of things and share them with other people. It entails all the community of preparing food and maximizes the sharing, while turning down the dial on the part that requires that you do the cooking. And if autumn is any kind of time for anything, its one to emphasize sharing in and enjoying the work of others. So make some boards, pour some drinks and invite some friends over! Quick! Before autumn rushes past.