Serving up Thanksgiving appetizers is a no-brainer, since dinner prep can take longer than expected on the day of the year anointed “The Food Super Bowl.” So how do you keep all those hungry guests from hovering over your kitchen asking, “Is dinner almost ready?” Answer: stock the living room with plenty of snacks, like this extravagant vegan charcuterie board by Kaiy Smith.
Smith, a master cheese and charcuterie artist and owner of catering company Stems in Los Angeles, knows how to create a crowd-pleasing board for big holidays. For her large Italian family, having a board ready as soon as guests arrive is an essential component of hospitality and the spirited way to kick off a holiday event.
“We are all entertaining at home more these days, and particularly at Thanksgiving, we want to share food and connect with people, because we haven’t been able to share things during COVID,” Smith says. “A gorgeous vegan cheese and charcuterie board is something everyone can eat, so there’s an inclusive, unifying element to it.”
From fall-themed color schemes to which vegan cheese and charcuterie you should buy, here are her go-to tips for creating a mouthwatering smorgasbord on the biggest food day of the year.
Hit the farmers’ market
The best and easiest way to source inspiration for a fall-themed Thanksgiving board is by starting at the farmers’ market, Smith says. “The idea is that you’re representing the cornucopia, the farm-to-table life, and the harvest festival, which is easy when you’re surrounded by seasonal produce,” she says. “It’s exciting to use what’s available to you, really focusing on local and sustainable things.”
Not only does Smith find the best ingredients for a single board at the farmers’ markets, but supporting local vendors and farmers is vital to her. The show-stopping element of shopping at these markets is finding ingredients that differ from the typical cheese board. “From heirloom veggies and gourds with unusual colors and patterns to small local cheese companies, literally everything we got for this board was from the South Pasadena Farmers Market, and it’s stuff you’ll never find at the grocery store.”
For your autumnal board, keep an eye out for multicolored corn, persimmons, pomegranates, figs, pears, and unique vegan dips, including rosemary ginger garlic dip, artichoke hummus, and harissa made by local Middle Eastern vendors.
Add a bright color to fall hues
Though fall hues lean toward orange and brown, using only those two colors can look too traditional, Smith says. “Try to move away from the idea of traditional by throwing in those pops of teal, green, or even blues,” she says. “You can do that and still make it look like fall.”
To add colorful highlights to a board composed mostly of neutrals, Smith used green pumpkins, cucumbers and herbs. “On your board you want a contrast of things that are dried and aged, and things that are fresh and new.”
Craft veggie flowers
Smith added a fresh green pop of color to her fall board with green cucumber roses but says you can create a flower shape using a variety of items, including radishes, citrus, and vegan meats or cheeses.
To make the flowers, slice your food into very thin circles using a knife or a mandoline (if you’re not experienced, make sure to use your mandoline’s handguard). Cut two of the circles in half.
Take a small amuse-bouche bowl and begin layering the circles around the exterior of the bowl. Make several layers to create a flower effect. Then, nest two half-circles inside a folded full circle and place it in the center of the bowl to represent the petals at the center of the flower.
Dial up the vegan butcher
“There are tons of awesome plant-based meat products,” Smith says. Her favorite charcuterie include Mia’s vegan proscuitto, Green Slice’s applewood-smoked ham and Hellenic Farms’ deliciously-flavored fig salami sets. She recommends folding larger pieces and layering them on your board.
You can also slice the charcuterie thinly and make flowers with it in small bowls, as Smith did for this board.
Splurge on plant-based cheese
Smith says this is the moment when you should splurge for a variety of plant-based cheese for your Thanksgiving board. She encourages a variety of textures, from soft to hard, like plant-based Brie and cheddar.
Smith advises going beyond just grabbing Miyoko’s wheels at Whole Foods. Instead, check your Instagram feed and do a quick search for a local cheesemaker, along with browsing your local small natural foods grocer and farmers’ markets for locally-made vegan cheeses.
There are so many accessible cheeses for vegans now,” she says. “Whether I’m in San Diego, L.A. or North Carolina, I can always find two or three incredible vegan cheeses within a 20- to 30-minute radius by checking Instagram.”
Her Californian favorites include Blöde Kuh’s aged semi-soft wheels like smoky kale sriracha and Chardonnay cheddar; Devil’s Back’s truffled cheese, havarti, and mozzarella; Yvonne’s dill and cranberry goat cheese; Double Batch’s dill havarti and pepper jack; and Jules Foods’ gouda and truffle Brie.
Refresh the board periodically
Since your Thanksgiving cheese board will likely be a large presentation featuring a variety of cheese, you won’t have room to present it all sliced from the start—plus, it’s prettier to have some whole wheels and logs to fill out the board.
While grazing boards—AKA very large cheese boards—have long been popular in New Zealand and Australia, these bountiful platters have only become more popular in the United States in recent years. Smith has noticed that Americans in particular seem to feel more hesitant to go in and slice their own cheese and charcuterie. For that reason, you should continue to slice whole cheese wheels and charcuterie as the party progresses, along with adding more bowls of fruit, veggies, nuts, or dips.
Happy Thanksgiving and happy grazing!