Student creates Halal charcuterie board business

Alishba Javaid, Life and Arts Reporter

From salami roses to heart-shaped cheese, Maryam Nathani creates halal food masterpieces from mental sketches in her head.

“When I walk through Trader Joe’s and I see a new thing, I get super excited,” chemical engineering sophomore Nathani said. “I’m like that would look so cute on my board, and I can’t wait to see the final product. That’s what drives me.” 

Charcuterie refers to the culinary art of preparing various meat products, cheese, crackers, bread and fruit aesthetically on a platter. Nathani curates her board only using meat from her local halal butcher. Halal means lawful in Arabic and identifies food practicing Muslims can eat. The meat used on the boards is cut according to Islamic guidelines with prayers said during the process.

Nathani made her first board for her cousin who struggled to find halal charcuterie board options for her graduation party. After receiving high amounts of praise, Nathani started a small halal charcuterie business, HalalCuterie, making over 20 boards for the greater Houston Muslim community since early June 2021. She caters to customer requests for themes such as Mediterranean-inspired, chaat and vegetarian, while keeping the boards halal.

“We only follow a halal diet in our household and that is extremely important to us,” said HalalCuterie customer Gauhar Sajanlal. “It’s always a treat to be able to get specialty meats, especially on a cheese board like this because we wouldn’t be able to find this quite as commonly as a regular charcuterie artist would make.”

Nathani primarily sells and promotes the boards through her Instagram account. Customers can order through a Google form with prices ranging from $20 to $120 depending on board size. 

“Once I find the perfect combination of what’s gonna look nice next to each other, that’s my favorite part of it: figuring it out, even if it takes a couple tries,” Nathani said.

She is now swamped with orders as people are enamored by both the aesthetic and taste of her boards. Psychology junior Maira Bokhari, who follows a halal diet, ordered a Father’s Day board from HalalCuterie. 

“(The taste) was even better than we were expecting,” Bokhari said. “All of the ingredients on the board pair very nicely with each other.”

However, creating the boards came with its own set of challenges due to the time-consuming and intricate process. 

“At the beginning, it was very unsustainable,” Nathani said. “The small boards were taking me a full day and I was like this is not gonna work out because I had nine orders on Father’s Day weekend.”

Over time, Nathani has become more efficient in producing the boards, and said she is motivated to keep pursuing the business because of her customer’s reactions, especially after seeing Sajanlal open her heart-themed board for her 11th wedding anniversary. 

“It was them and their kids, and they were all like opening the board together and they were so happy with it,” Nathani said. “So it’s things like that (where) I’m just like, okay, it’s totally worth it.”

Nathani said she only planned on keeping her business a summer side hustle, but HalalCuterie turned into an unexpected creative outlet. Because of the positive reaction from the Houston Muslim community, she said she is considering making them past this summer. 

“The way that you’re able to express your creativity … It’s just like a really nice creative outlet to unwind for me,” Nathani said.