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Courtesy of CheezMD

Instagram is packed with grazing boards—swank spreads of eye-catching cheese, charcuterie, and accoutrements arranged with artistic precision. For years, Melissa Shear would put together these snack platters when she went to someone’s house for dinner or a holiday. “Everyone has their signature dish that they make,” she says. “That was my signature dish.”

Last fall, she began posting pictures of some of her boards on Instagram. When the pandemic forced her to work from home this spring, Shear began ramping up her posts and got positive feedback. In June, she launched CheezMD as a side hustle to her full time job as a lawyer in the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, where she has worked for the past 13 years.

Starting a business in the middle a public health emergency has pros and cons. Shear says it was simpler to take online classes for food safety certification instead of attending scheduled in-person classes, but finding a commercial kitchen to work in was trickier because she didn’t want to take in-person tours. Eventually, she secured space at Creative Cakes in Silver Spring.

Shear says the key to making a spread that leaves a lasting impression is assembling a broad variety of components that both taste and look good together. “To make it yourself isn’t hard,” says Shear. “I’m not saying I’m a classically trained chef. But when you see what goes into the board, what you have to buy, and how much you would have left over, it’s a lot.”

Her standard boards include crackers, fresh seasonal produce, dried fruit, nuts, something spreadable like jam, honey, or a compote, and a sweet element, such as chocolate covered pretzels, fudge, or candies. Expect a variety of cheeses—soft, semi-soft, and hard—made with an array of milks. For meats, there’s always something harder, like salami, and what Shear calls “a foldable,” like prosciutto.

Several of the elements are produced locally in Bethesda, including salami by MeatCrafters and pastries from MichaDulces, an in-home bakery. The boards are customizable, and Shear can create gluten-free, nut-free, pork-free, or vegetarian spreads.

The boards range in cost from $100 to $150 and are designed to feed from four to 10 people. They’re available for pick up from her home in Bethesda Fridays through Sundays. She takes payment via Venmo, PayPal, and cash.

Customers looking for smaller spreads can purchase a picnic box instead, though those aren’t customizable. They feed one to four people, and cost from $20 to $65.