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The Ultimate Grazing Board Perfect for Any Type of Gathering

November 29, 2023
Kiersten Hickman for Clean Plates

For me and my friends, it’s not officially a party unless a grazing board is involved. Whenever we decide to gather—whether it be for a big party or simply to watch a movie on a Friday night—we always have to get a variety of cheeses, meats, fruits, and dips in front of us. Otherwise, well, it’s just not a party without it.

In my experience, grazing boards make for excellent snacks and appetizers for any type of gathering. They tend to especially be my appetizer of choice during the holidays, saving me time to hang out with my guests — and precious oven space for, say, a roasting turkey.

Even though grazing boards look beautifully crafted and intricate, I find they are actually pretty simple to throw together. When I make a grazing board, I like to follow the Cheese By Numbers method by Marissa Mullen. This method, which is explained in detail in her book That Cheese Plate Will Change Your Life, has you putting together each part of your grazing board in an easy-to-follow, step-by-step process.

How is a grazing board different from charcuterie?

While the idea of a charcuterie plate likely involves images of meats, cheese, fruits, veggies, and spreads, in all honesty, a board that includes more than meats and cheeses is technically a grazing board.

The origin of “charcuterie” comes from France and involves a branch of cooking where different meats are prepared for a meal. Charcuterie plates have since evolved where meats and cheese are typically served together, maybe with some crackers or a toasty baguette.

In more recent years, charcuterie plates have gone from simple meat and cheese pairings to extravagant boards with all kinds of pickings. When compared to a grazing board, they don’t look much different.

Why make a grazing board?

Unlike charcuterie, a grazing board doesn’t really have guidelines to go by—it can be a plethora of pickings of your choosing. Mediterranean mezze platters can technically be called grazing boards, given that they involve lots of different pickings to graze on throughout a gathering. All in all, a grazing board works as the perfect appetizer when you’re serving a large crowd, saving you a ton of time from preparing dozens of hors d’oeuvres.

Plus, with so much variety in a grazing board, grazing boards can fit any type of dietary restriction. Do you have a guest that’s vegan? Low carb? Dairy-free? A grazing board works for them all. They simply grab what works for their particular dietary needs, without the hassle of trying to please everyone with snacks during an already busy day.

So whether it’s for a big holiday party or a casual night in with your friends, here’s how I put together a grazing board that every one of your guests will love, using Mullen’s Cheese by Numbers method.

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First, gather your supplies.

The board

To start, be sure to have a large enough board for proper grazing. I like to use my 20”x26” marble pastry board or my large bamboo chopping block.

The bowls

A grazing board isn’t complete with dips and spreads, so you’re going to need some bowls to put them in. For this board, I used a small set of bowls as well as a few mini ramekins to hold some of the wet pickings, like pickles and olives.

The knives

You can’t go wrong with having a set of cheese knives on you for the full grazing board experience. Be sure to get a set that includes knives for slicing up hard and soft cheeses.

I also highly recommend grabbing a cheese knife with holes in the blade, which allows for easier slicing for cheeses that take a bit more work, like solid blocks of cheddar or manchego.

The utensils

Depending on your dips and spreads, it’s probably smart to have a few other utensils for easy spreading. I recommend a small honey dipper for easier drizzling, a small wooden spoon for mustard, and a stainless steel spreader for jams and jellies. Be sure to grab smaller spoons for other types of dips, like hummus or tzatziki.

Now while grazing boards are meant to sit in the center of a table for people to, well, graze, you could also put out a set of small plates to make room for other grazers if you’re hosting a larger crowd. I have a set of reusable plastic serving plates that I bring out when I’m hosting a gathering.

And with that, let’s get into the fun part — the food.

Step one: Cheese

setting cheese and bowls for a grazing board

Kiersten Hickman for Clean Plates

Although grazing boards are meant to have a plethora of foods, I still consider cheeses and meats to be the main event. I choose a variety of cheeses for people to enjoy—ranging from hard cheeses to soft spreadable cheeses.

For this board, I went with a camembert (your favorite brie could also work here), an Artigiano Vino Rosso red wine cheese, a Roth Cranberry Chèvre goat cheese, a blue cheese (Saint Agur is one of the most famous), and a Boursin Garlic & Fine Herbs spreadable cow’s cheese.

Other great crowd-pleasing for cheeses include Comté, manchego, and smoked gouda.

Step two: Meat

setting up a salami river for a grazing board

Kiersten Hickman for Clean Plates

For the meats I went with classics that are easy to find at the store; Genoa salami and prosciutto.

In Mullen’s book, she demonstrates the “Salami River,” a line of perfectly folded salami winding down the center of the board. It looks a lot more presentable than simply piling salami on top of each other in some corner of the board, and makes for easy grazing.

Prosciutto isn’t as easily foldable as a salami, so with clean hands, I twisted them together and placed them alongside the camembert cheese (which I find to be a great pairing for this meat).

Step three: Produce

adding colorful produce to a grazing board

Kiersten Hickman for Clean Plates

Now, this is where all the color and fun comes in! The produce will include any type of fruit, vegetable, or pickled item that you would like to add to this board. Produce also makes for a great garnish — like a perfectly sliced apple, pear, or pomegranate. Keep grapes on the vine for a beautiful display — and for easy picking.

I kept this board traditional with different fruits and pickled items, including blackberries, dried apricots, mini pickles, and tri-colored olives. I also chose to slice up an Envy apple. Yes, for the taste, but also because Envy apples don’t brown as easily as other apples! Nothing kills the vibe more than a brown, soggy-looking apple. So if you’re letting this board sit for a little while, an Envy apple will still look delicious and presentable for a longer period of time.

While I didn’t include it on this board, a grazing board can include vegetables as well. Petite carrots, mini bell peppers, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumber, and sliced radishes all make great vegetables for grazing and dipping.

Step four: Crunch

adding bread, crackers, nuts, and chocolate to a grazing board

Kiersten Hickman for Clean Plates

Bring on the crunch! My favorite part of the grazing board, to be honest.

Essentially anything that crunches when you take a bite is what goes in this category—crackers, nuts, chocolate, and of course, bread. You can never go wrong with slicing up a classic French baguette for your grazing board. Unlike other artisanal bread, French baguettes are thinner and make for smaller slices, which means you’ll have room to load up your plate with a variety of other foods.

While you could break up any dark chocolate for your board, I would suggest splurging on a bar of Spring & Mulberry for the festive occasion. This dark chocolate is naturally sweetened with dates and includes very minimal ingredients. For this grazing board, I broke apart chunks of the Mixed Berry bar, but the Medjool Date, Pecan, Himalayan Salt is also a personal favorite.

Other easy (and healthy!) snacking chocolates are these Natural Delight Dark Chocolate Truffles. They are essentially little dark chocolate-covered date bites, and come in three different flavors; classic dark chocolate, blueberry, and cherry.

Of course, you can’t go wrong with bags of Wonderful Pistachios and Diamond Himalayan Pink Salt Snack Walnuts for added crunch (and protein!) to your board.

I like a cracker with a little something-something (no bland-tasting crackers here), so I tend to gravitate toward a box of Mary’s Gone Crackers for my boards. The Black Pepper Crackers are always a top choice, and their Super Seed Rosemary tends to be a crowd-pleaser as well.

Step five: Dips/spreads

adding honey, jam, and mustard to a grazing board spread

Kiersten Hickman for Clean Plates

Every grazing board needs a good jam, and Chia Smash would be a perfect choice. While the company makes all different kinds of jammy flavors — like strawberry and blueberry — I personally love the Raspberry Chia Smash. Plus, it’s only made with four natural ingredients; dates, chia seeds, raspberries, and lemon.

Drizzling honey on top of cheese and fruit is the epitome of the grazing board experience, and you can never go wrong with a jar of Bee Harmony Honey. In fact, their Honey Flight gives you a variety of honey to choose from — and makes for an excellent gift, might I add.

As for mustard, I find a small pot of Maille Rich Country Dijon is always a nice touch to a board. Plus, the little jar looks fancy enough for the board and likely won’t need its own bowl—unless you don’t feel like sharing all of it and want to tuck away some for yourself later!

Step six: Garnish

finishing a grazing board with a decorative garnish

Kiersten Hickman for Clean Plates

The board sure is beautiful already, but you can make it even more special with a little garnish to finish. As mentioned, sliced fruit can work well as a garnish here (see my use of that beautiful sliced pear?) However, Mullen also frequently uses sprigs of rosemary and tiny flowers as a garnish for her boards. Because this board was pretty colorful already, I went with a simple white baby breath to give this grazing board an elegant finish.

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