Lots of kids love cheese and many love charcuterie, too. Just to clarify, we often use the word “charcuterie” to describe a composed board with cheese, meats, fruit etc. Really though the term is just French for any type of cured meat. Salami, pâté, prosciutto and even bacon are all types of charcuterie.
Regardless of what we call this stuff, putting a board together for or with your kids can be a fun way to make a snack or lunch that provides great variety for your little gourmands!
I have 4-year-old twins, Kemp and Jack, and they have loved cheese and charcuterie since they started eating solid food. My wife often uses some of the goodies I bring home from the store to make lunch. Just like the boards we make for people at Mongers’ the kids appreciate boards with variety, color and different shapes and textures.
Here are some thoughts on building a board with your kids and what to include.
Variety is the name of the game in board building and doing it with kids is no different. Though my kids love common stuff like Monterey Jack, block cheddar and grocery store mozzarella, they also relish a chunk of Red Leicester, funky fontina and others. This is a good time to push the envelope a bit.
We usually include an approachable mild cheese but also add a couple that may be more assertive and flavorful. Include some softer cheeses and hard ones so there are different textures for them to explore.
And finally, cut the pieces into fun shapes. This way you and the kids can get creative with how they are arranged. Triangles, sticks, rectangle slices can all be laid out. It is a good time to “play” with your food.
- Cheddars: There are countless varieties of cheddar made in the U.S. and abroad. They range from young and mild to old and crumbly. Some are fruity, some are sharp, some taste like the basement and some taste like all three. Try Prairie Breeze from Milton, anything from Grafton in VT, or Hook’s in WI. My kids love Red Leicester, an English cheddar-style cheese. It’s bright orange and adds great color to the board. Though it is cave aged, it is pretty mild and very approachable even for picky eaters.
- Parmigiano Reggiano: The king of cheese! It is a shame that for many of us growing up, “parmigian” was only something that came in a plastic green cylinder. The real thing is a great cheese and wonderful to eat on its own. The salty and slightly crunchy texture is a delight for palates young and old.
- Sheep’s Milk and Goat Milk: Milk doesn’t just come from cows, and as your kids learn about different animals, they may like trying cheeses from them, too. Manchego is a great option for a sheep milk cheese. For something more assertive, you can try Pecorino Toscano. In the goat’s milk category, you can do soft “chevre” (we love Idyll Farms in Northport) or harder cheeses like Garrotxa from Spain or Brabander Gouda from the Netherlands.
- Alpine cheeses: These include things we casually know as swiss cheese but also many others. Gruyere, Comte, Fontina and even more punchy options like Challerhocker, Appenzeller. Start with the gruyere or comte and if they go over well, move onto the others. Though not technically an Alpine cheese, Toma from Pt Reyes in California is always a big hit with little cheese lovers.
- Soft cheeses: Brie is delicious, and many kids like it, too. Though more traditional bries are very intense and earthy, you can work up to them by starting with things like Fromage D’affinois from France or Trillium from Indianapolis.
- Stinky and Blue: These are more challenging. But don’t be afraid to let your kids try them. You may even find that you expand your own tastes. At home we find it is best to present things to the kids and let them decide, even if it isn’t something we love or think they might not. Milder taleggio or a sweet and fruity blue, like Bay Blue from Pt Reyes can be a good place to start. You might be surprised what your kids like when you give them a chance to try something without leading them on.
A couple options is usually plenty. But again, a little variety goes a long way. We might include a little lunchmeat like turkey breast (Fra’mani Turkey Galantine is a fave) and then a couple other items like a salami or whole muscle charcuterie.
- Salamis: Whether it is Oscar Meyer, or high-end imports Salamis are liked by most kids who eat meat. We love Creminelli Milano, Fra’Mani Soppressata, and if you have PTSD from cheap bologna as a child, try some of Tempesta’s Mortadella. If you don’t do pork, you can always find some great all beef options. Brooklyn cured makes several as does Red Bear Provisions.
- Whole Muscle: My kids love most of this, from Prosciutto, to speck (like prosciutto but smoked, to Jamon Iberico. Adding a couple slices of one of these gives you a different texture and flavor than you get from salami or traditional lunch meats.
Extras – AKA “Accoutrements”
Use these to fill your board out and make it more balanced. Adding some nuts and fruit will add crunch and color while offsetting the richness and salt of the cheeses/meats. We often use:
- Cut grapes
- Dried apricots or other dried fruit
- Fresh apple, pear slices, or orange wedges
- Almonds or pecans
- Jam – Some natural low sugar fruit jam can be a nice addition. We love Gus & Grey made in Detroit!
- Crackers – We use them sparingly. Like a lot of adults, our kids love love love carbs in almost every form. While we always include crackers on the boards we make at Mongers’, at home we find that our kids are all too happy to fill up on crackers and bread. So to make the rest of the board disappear, we omit them or save a few for when they are finishing up.
Kemp and Jack’s Mongers’ Provisions Lunch:
Note: Portions are per Monger in Training
- 3 cheeses – 1 oz each
- 2 meats – .5-1 oz each
- 2-3 oz fresh fruit
- 2 oz dried fruit (dried apricots are loved by almost every kid who comes into our store!)
- Scant ¼ cup nuts or other crunchy item
- Optional – Whole wheat bread or crackers
- Start with the cheese. Prep the cheese into a few different shapes. Triangle wedges from a manchego, cheddar crumbles or cubes, sticks from gouda or alpine cheese. Soft cheeses are best placed as-is or assembled as a bite on a slice of apple or cracker.
- Place the cheeses on the board, you can let the kids help with the building though in my experience you may have to add a bit to your portions to account for what gets eaten during assembly. Triangles make fun shapes, you can do a sun, or a spiral etc. Sticks can be used to make little log cabins or railroad tracks. The crumbles/cubes can make a mountain, smiley face or anything else you imagine.
- Next place the meats. Cutting it into smaller pieces can make it both easier to eat and make it last longer. Jack has a tendency to grab a whole slice of prosciutto and shove it in his mouth. So, cutting it up and spreading it out helps prevent all the meat being eaten in 10 seconds.
- Fill in some of the extra space with the fruit and other items. At the store, we tend to make boards pretty full. But for the kids, it can be nice to leave some blank space for them to experiment with their own shapes and combinations. You can also set up a couple preconceived “bites” for them to try. They may not want to try that blue cheese on its own, but add a drizzle of honey and you may find you have a blue fanatic on your hands. If they only like one or two of the cheeses, that is OK! It is important to remember that just the act of trying it is expanding their palate. And things can change fast, you may find that the cheese they loved a month ago is out of favor and one they wouldn’t touch is now their favorite.
Have fun and Bon Appetit!
If you don’t have the time or patience to make your own, let Mongers Provisions do it for you. They have two locations: 4240 Cass Ave., Detroit and The Rust Belt Market, 22801 Woodward Ave., Ferndale.