CHEESE PLATE IDEAS - A RENO'D APPROACH
The cheese plate of yesterday is getting some serious competition from the newly trendy cheese and charcuterie board and I have to say, I'm thrilled and a big fan. Most restaurants today feature this option as an appetizer offering a display of carefully curated cheeses and meats but there is no reason to leave this menu item solely in the hands of chefs. You can do it too with little fuss and The Board, as we call it in my house, is my ultimate idea of assembly "non cooking." It just takes a little bit of organization and whether you are having a football game bash, a sit down dinner or an open house over the holidays, The Board is minimal fuss and always a hit. I wholeheartedly recommend a cleaner, Start Here Diet-approved version for your next gathering, which, judging by the calendar might be just around the corner for many of you. Yes, [highlight color="eg. yellow, black"]The Holiday Season is officially here.[/highlight] I want to show you how to serve a fabulous Cheese and Charcuterie Board that won't leave your health and diet plans sidelined.
Get creative with your board. Think about colours, textures, flavors and even shapes that will all be doing a dance on your board. An obvious item to feature would be cheese but don't just serve ordinary, rubbery hunks of commercial cheese. Visit a local dairy, winery or specialty store and ask for a few recommendations. Think of aged, ripened, soft and veined cheeses that will play nicely together. Leveraging heavily off of my Dutch background I often select aged Gouda and the crusty but respectable Beemster. Both of these are delicious! A delicious Brie is a must with its' creamy texture, and a beautiful blue-veined Stilton is a show stopper. Cheese is always best served with crisp crackers or flatbreads and interestingly with certain fruits. I like to add grapes as a familiar option but apples and pears are good, too. However, my all time favourite is the fresh fig. Nothing looks more beautiful beside cheeses and meats than a fig that has been cross cut on top and gently opened to display its' stunning interior. The colour! The flavour! Figs don't stand a chance when I'm around.
Next consider the cured meats you would like to include. I have access to a local butcher who offers an array of locally-cured meats sourced from grass-fed animals. You have heard me talk of Seed to Sausage, but don't overlook a local craftsman in your area and ask about how the meat is made. You need to source your cured meats well because they do tend to be fatty, and fat in animals and humans is where toxins are stored in the body. Artisanal cured meat makers usually take a great deal of pride in making their products with little or no preservatives and minimal salt. Go for the tangy flavour of white or red wine salumi, prosciutto, chorizo, speck, Genoa and more. [highlight color="eg. yellow, black"]In general serve about 5 different cured meats and 5 different cheeses.[/highlight]
Don't stop here! Always place fresh fruit, as mentioned above, in a lovely shallow bowl or right on the board if its big enough. Dried fruit is nice too especially apricots and figs. I also like dried, unsweetened cranberries for the festive season. You can also put out several small dishes of various fruit or vegetable spreads, honeys and jams. I like to think of these little dishes as the jewels in the outfit. I make them colorful and interesting just to keep things moving. The dishes can hold the various spreads I mentioned but also nuts - walnuts seem to look especially handsome on The Board. Add a hit of tart and tangy by serving small dishes holding pickled vegetables including beets, cucumber pickles and onions. Other items to serve would include pestos, tapenades, olives, citrus fruits and on and on.
This is your chance to shine. Make sure to take a picture of your spread before you dig in. It will never look prettier and you will want to remember what you did for the next time you serve The Board.
On a cautionary note, try not to indulge too much. Guests and you will continue to eat until it's all gone. You might want to limit amounts to the general guideline of 3 to 4 pieces of meat and cheese each per person. If cheese is your Hidden Food, as it was mine, you have to allow yourself one or two pieces and have that firmly in your mind before you serve.
In general, the Cheese and Charcuterie Board can be a healthy lifestyle option if you source your cheeses and cured meats carefully. Limiting yourself to a few pieces of the best is better than suffering by not allowing yourself any at all or eating rubbery, low-fat versions that just don't cut it.
I will be toasting the holidays right along with you! Salute! Slainte! Prost! Tosca