Meet the Maker

What is Charcuterie and How Can You Make Your Own | Meet the Maker with Rachel Dance and Arlia Board Company

Hey Making Life Readers! We’re very excited to introduce a new maker into our Meet the Maker Series! This time we’re introducing food artisan Rachel Dance of Arlia Board Co. She creates incredibly beautiful “grazing pieces” (or charcuterie boards!) and was gracious enough to share how you too could make one at home…. here’s Rachel!

Hi there! My name is Rachel and I live in Washington, D.C. with my husband and children. I am an instructional coach in an elementary school, but on the side I have enjoyed creating grazing pieces through a small business venture called Arlia Board Co. I follow Ned & Hannah’s Instagram The Making Life ( they are from my hometown in Pennsylvania!), and often drool over the jars of honey and more recently the frames of honeycomb they harvest from their beehives. I would love to have space in the city someday to have my own hives! You can visit my Instagram @arliaboardco

A Little Background on Arlia Board Co.

(our logo created by my talented sister

I created Arlia Board Co. because I love bringing people together, and food is one of the best ways I’ve found to do that. When you make that food a pretty and delicious grazing piece, it sparks conversation and draws people together! It started with family, expanded to friends. Now I get to share in the joy many in DC, Maryland, and Virginia experience when they gather and graze on Arlia Board Co. creations!

Though I officially started in December of 2019, it wasn’t until a few months after Covid 19 initially transformed our country as we knew it that I really established the purpose of Arlia Board Co.  Our country was also grappling with systemic racism that has been central to its operations since its beginning and people were feeling isolated and uneasy. I began thinking closely about how I could encourage those in our community to gather safely with loved ones and friends in socially distanced and contactless ways so that they could continue to create moments of joy. 

Gathering–which is central to the mission of our business, was made so difficult with the realities of the pandemic. I wanted to make it easier for those in our community to create those moments of joy in safe ways.

In May 2020, I began personalizing our grazing boxes with messaging and coordinating florals because I wanted to make the experience even more special than a box of curated deliciousness alone. I also began creating mini individual grazing boxes to encourage socially distant gathering. Since then, I have had the opportunity to witness so many people being gifted our grazing boxes and platters to celebrate birthdays, to provide comfort in loss, to commemorate anniversaries, to engage in self-care, and to reconnect with loved ones separated for many months. It has really encouraged my own heart to share in their Arlia Board Co. experiences!

(This is an example of a birthday box we created!)

If you are not in the DC area I, unfortunately, can’t give you the Arlia Board Co. experience, but I’m happy to share some of the considerations that I keep in mind when curating a grazing experience for my clients!

What is Charcuterie?

The word charcuterie means cooked, processed, or cured meats and meat products. Originally it referred primarily to pork. Over time, this word began to mean something different. It meant more of a spread of delicious snacky food. Today, many people use the word charcuterie to refer to a tray of things like cold cuts, cheese, olives, vegetables, crackers, honey, and bread.

I often use the phrase “grazing pieces” because many of my boards don’t include meat at all, but I’ll also use the word charcuterie because that’s the one people are most familiar with.

First Considerations With Your Charcuterie Board

The first thing to know is that there truly is no wrong way to create a charcuterie spread! Pick what you love, arrange it, and enjoy! Every piece I create is unique as far as ingredients and pairings, but there are a few aspects I consider when creating an Arlia Board Co. experience for our clients. I’m happy to share them and will hopefully make your grazing piece that much more beautiful and delicious. Let’s make an Arlia Board together!

Charcuterie Piece Considerations for Your Next Gathering

Here are some of my best tips for creating a delicious and beautiful charcuterie board!

Choose Your Plate, Platter, or Board for Your Grazing Piece

Consider the size of the board, platter, or plate that you will use for your piece. Typically size is determined by the number of people you plan to serve. If you don’t have a wooden tray or platter, think about using a cutting board, a pretty dinner plate, or even a parchment-lined baking sheet!

(This is a 15 inch in diameter wooden turning tray, it makes for easy access for a large group of 8-10 people!)

Pick the Cheese for Your Charcuterie 

I always start with cheese and determine the rest of the pairings based on the cheeses chosen.

If you’re making a small plate or board at home, think about including at minimum one soft cheese (think triple cream brie, soft-ripened goat cheese, mozzarella, port salut ) and one semi-firm or firm cheese (think gouda, manchego, aged cheddar, robust).

A good rule of thumb is to have about one-two ounces of cheese per guest. If your soft cheese choice is more smooth and mild in flavor, go for something with great texture and a stronger flavor as your firm cheese. The variety of textures and flavors make for more delicious pairings! When thinking about how you’ll present the delicious cheeses you’ve chosen, consider allowing cheeses that naturally crumble to crumble, slicing firmer cheeses into triangles or rectangles, and keep soft cheeses whole.

Place the cheeses on your board before anything else so that you can build your grazing piece around them. This also helps them come to temperature as you create the rest of the board, because cheese is most flavorful at room temperature!

(This cabot clothbound cheddar naturally crumbles, so when plating we keep some whole, while crumbling the rest by placing the point of the knife into the cheese and twisting in various spots to create bite-size pieces).

Think About Your Spreads

We do a minimum of two spreads on all of our grazing pieces. We typically choose one spicy or savory option(chopped Calabrian peppers and a garlic mustard aioli are our favorites), and one sweet option (think honeycomb, honey, or fruit jams).

Whether it’s alone on a cracker, or smothering cheese, the spreads add layers of flavor and texture to your grazing piece that you won’t want to leave out! I add the spreads to the piece next, because they’re often in little ramekins that you’ll want to place before moving onto your next ingredient!

We make an intentional effort to support Black-owned businesses in our creations as often as possible, and one way we do this is by using Trade Street Jam Co. Jams, and Zach & Zoë Honey and Honeycomb as two of the spread choices on our menu! 

(Raw honeycomb is a client and family favorite spread!)

Charcuterie (Cured Meats)

The charcuterie I’m referring to here is actually the meat! If you are going to add cured meats, consider adding options from multiple sources like pork, turkey, and beef.

One of our favorite medleys includes prosciutto, a spicy salami or capicola, and a turkey pastrami. We have even found some vegan prosciutto and carpaccio that our plant-based clients have been enjoying!

I add the charcuterie after the spreads, and use the cheese and spread placements to determine where I will place the meats–often layering pieces around a bowl or folding it to lean up against the cheeses. A tip I will offer if you’re looking to get high-quality meats at a good price, consider going straight to the deli counter at your local grocery store and purchasing the exact amount of meat you’ll need for your grazing piece. You’ll want at least 1-2 ounces of meat per guest, but more if this is serving as the main course. Ordering this way not only allows you to get the charcuterie freshly sliced in the thickness you prefer, but it also keeps you from paying steep prices for small portions of pre-packaged cured meats.

(Grazing platter with prosciutto, vegan prosciutto, and pastrami turkey)

What Sides Do You Want to Add to Your Grazing Piece?

We love to include fresh seasonal fruit, olives, cornichons, and a variety of nuts on our pieces.

It’s fun to experiment with various fruit pairings–especially as they change from season to season, while the olives, cornichons, and nuts add a nice texture and saltiness in between or in addition to your meat and cheese bites. The sides are added after the charcuterie, and can be used to fill in all of those spaces in between. I personally make it my goal to not be able to see the board between any of my ingredients, because it makes the piece look even more lush!

(This image shows how we use fruits, nuts, olives, and chocolates to fill in all the space on our platters!)

Add Something Sweet To Your Charcuterie Board

We love to top our pieces off with a little something sweet. This could be dried fruits, candied nuts, little cookies, or chocolates! We often place sweets on top of the nuts so that they don’t get wet from the fruits, meats, and cheeses! Select sweets you like, or a local favorite, or something color-coordinated–you truly can’t go wrong with this step! Something we’ve enjoyed recently is making our own chocolate bark by melting chocolate and adding toppings like sprinkles, nuts, edible flowers, edible glitter, and/or various food coloring combinations, then refrigerating it and breaking it up to serve as a unique addition to our grazing pieces.

(Birthday box with homemade ‘unicorn bark’)

Bring in the Carbs – Include Bread or Crackers to Your Grazing Piece

For smaller grazing pieces one type of cracker and a simple sliced baguette are just fine as carriers for all of your cheeses, meats, and spreads;but, if you are creating something larger, it’s a good idea to add a variety of crackers and an additional sliced bread (hey quarantine sourdough starter) to the mix. Pick your trusty favorite and something new outside of your comfort zone(keep on walking past those Triscuits and Wheat Thins people)–this is the opportunity to expand your palette and see what you like!

(Side of breads for a platter order)

How About Some Garnishes For Your Charcuterie Board?

We are currently loving edible flowers (though it’s our goal to grow our own someday, we currently purchase ours from a local DC Woman-owned and operated farm!), but fresh seasonal herbs that you’re growing in your garden or that you can purchase at your farmers market (Shout out to our local Black-woman owned 3ph Farm for providing the herbs for many of our summer orders!) or grocery store like basil, thyme, oregano, sage, and rosemary can also add a beautiful look and smell to elevate your piece!

(Edible flowers from a local farm for garnish)

Don’t Forget Utensils For Your Charcuterie

You don’t need fancy cheese knives for your grazing piece, just be sure to have a knife for each cheese that still needs to be sliced as it is served. You’ll also want to be sure to have some little spoons ready for your spreads, and some toothpicks, little forks, or mini tongs so that people can graze in the healthiest, most hygienic way possible!

Prepare Your Charcuterie Ahead of Time

The best part of all of this? With one preparation you can provide a focal point for those you love to gather around. You can make it ahead of time, cover with beeswax wrap or plastic wrap, and then take it out 30-45 minutes before you plan to enjoy (so that cheese is at that perfect room temperature)–then add the crackers and you’re ready to go! There are so many bites to choose from, that there’s sure to be something to please every guest’s palate. Having this prepped allows you to focus on the gathering–the catching up, the comforting, the encouraging, the celebrating—whatever it is you’ve gathered together for, you can do it around your delicious grazing piece!

We’d Love to Hear From You

If you make a grazing piece inspired by these steps, please tag us @ArliaBoardCo on Instagram–it brings us so much joy to see you enjoying delicious grazing pieces with the ones you love!






“This is the power of gathering: it inspires us, delightfully, to be more hopeful, more joyful, more thoughtful: in a word, more alive.”

Alice Waters


(A photo of myself, my husband, and two of our children digging into a grazing piece at home)

Hey there again readers! If you enjoyed reading about this maker, check out some other makers as well!

Clarissa from Grunge Goddess Soap Works and How to Make Cold Process Soap

Shennandoah from ReparTee Designs with Cricut Making.



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