By Jill Erber
Holidays are the time to go big and bold, especially with food. How do we elevate our offerings in keeping with the season without compromising approachability and ease? Suffice it to say that nothing is more festive, delicious and easy than a bountiful cheese and charcuterie spread. Here are a few tips for building one that will make your guests swoon … without turning you into a Grinch.
Cheese, charcuterie and accompaniments
When presenting cheeses, we always vary milk, texture, flavor and appearance so everyone finds something yummy. Now is the time to take it up a notch.
• Include exotic selections studded with truffles, herbs or fruit.
• Choose colorful interiors or rinds to make your board “pop.”
• Normally, we recommend fewer cheeses, but you get a pass this month. Load ‘em up and soak in the bounty.
• Increase the rustic/ elegant vibe by incorporating thick-sliced salami, which still looks and tastes great hours later.
Putting it together
When it comes to arranging, remember that this is, after all, food. You want it to be appealing, mouthwatering and photo-ready. But you also want it to be approachable and edible. Don’t over-construct your board to the point that guests are afraid to touch it.
• Cut hard cheeses into easy-to-grab chunks, but leave softer cheeses in wedges so guests get the fun of cutting their own portions.
• Place bowls of crackers and sliced bread nearby so they’re readily available. They don’t have to be on the board itself.
• Once the cheese and charcuterie are in position, toss toasted nuts, dried fruit and other accompaniments into any open spot, achieving the perfect balance between “soothing structure” and “overflowing cornucopia.”
Again, go for beauty and bounty, but your board is there to be eaten with gusto. Plus, if it takes three hours to build, that defeats the purpose.
Wine: sparkling, red and white
Sparkling is a go-to for the holidays because of its celebratory feel. But don’t let yourself be intimidated by this universal wine style – it can be a host’s best friend.
• Broaden your bubbly. Considered the pinnacle of sparkling excellence, Champagne is often the default for the category. However, it can be pricey, which scares many away from everyday enjoyment. This year, branch out and try some yummy alternatives like Italian Prosecco. Love the Champagne flavor profile? Try Spanish Cava or French Blanc de Blancs, both of which are made in the Champagne method, but at a fraction of the price.
• Drink it all the way through. Sparkling wine is not just for the opening toast. With so many styles, from bone dry to sweet and from palest yellow to boldest pink, it can be paired with almost any food on earth – yes, even meat. And it’s absolutely perfect with rich foods that are so common at holiday time.
Cold weather tends to make folks crave rich, juicy red wines. There are many to choose from, some more food-friendly than others, and in my opinion, wine should always be food-friendly. Reds like Zinfandel, Cotes du Rhone, Pinot Noir and Barbera are great food enhancers and people pleasers.
Of course, you can still serve white wine, just pick something on the lush end of the spectrum like Viognier, Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc. Always serve whites chilled, even when it’s freezing outside.
The last word
This may sound obvious, but holiday entertaining is meant to be fun for your guests – and you. Prepare in advance. Enjoy the assembly. Then, while your cheeses are coming to room temperature, you’ve got a whole hour to beautify yourself. It doesn’t get any more festive than that.
The writer is owner and “Cheese Lady” of Cheesetique.