Hang on to your hats, friends: the holiday entertaining season is upon us! Without being trite, to me it truly is “the most wonderful time of the year” – a time I try to fill with food, drink, and company!
We are lucky enough to have a large circle of friends, and that creates plenty of opportunities to grab a cocktail and a nosh! Sometimes these gatherings can be quite posh, or they can be as simple as catching up with one other couple by the fire place. The important part, for any occasion, is creating a welcoming atmosphere, with plenty of good food (and cocktails!) enjoyed by all!
In my last post, I discussed the idea of creating a ‘bespoke” cocktail for an upcoming party menu; something a little more special than a standard mixed cocktail. Here, we are going to dive into how to assemble a few gorgeous ‘graze plates’ (charcuterie boards) for your guests!
This is Part II of my collaboration with the amazing fashion & lifestyle blogger, Jaimie Tucker (to be found at www.jaimietucker.com). I was fortunate enough to be invited over to her gorgeous home, where we created a fantastic spread for a flock of hungry people. We both love to entertain, but sometimes you want something besides a full-blown meal to serve to your guests. Something a little more low key. Thats when these charcuterie boards come into play! These appetizers are like a “choose your own adventure’ book for your palate! Mix & match, indulge in a little sweet or savory delicacy! This type of entertaining is among my favorite setups!
There are a couple of key elements to remember when putting your graze boards together. You want to include a variety of tastes and textures, and mix foods that are lighter with heavier fare. What I like to keep in mind when shopping for my ingredients are:
We create the savory elements with cured or smoked meats and pates, to balance out sweet foods like fresh berries. In this platter we used bresaola (an Italian cured beef, and my personal cured meat of choice!), as well as prosciutto, and speck for this Mediterranean-themed platter. I have also used ingredients like smoked salmon, foie gras, or chicken liver terrine. This portion of the platter is designed to get your mouth watering! I like to use the common practice of ‘bunching up’ cured meats to make them more visually interesting.
Sweet selections are on the board to give your taste buds a happy surprise between bites of other foods. A selection of both fresh berries and dried fruits, such as dates, dried pears, and cherries are wonderful pops of sweet, bright, flavor. A luscious fig or a sour cherry jam can really highlight the character of a cheese. You can even include some fine dark or white chocolate, and you will be amazed at how well it can complement your savory foods! The sweeter additions also play well with richer fare, such as hard or soft cheeses.
Rich foods, (the high-fat stuff!) have two purposes – filling you up, and coating your palate with delicious flavor that rounds out the acidic components of the plate! Pates and terrines (from the savory section above) would fall into this category as well, but the main way I like to think about this element is through cheeses! In this meal, we used a (very modestly blue) stilton, a delicious medium-soft brie, a fresh mozzarella, and a creamy goat cheese. A mild feta or smoked cheddar, would also be excellent. Get the cheeses that you like to eat! Vary the sizes and shapes of your slices to make your platter stand out.
Breaking up cheeses and meats onto different boards can make it easier for people with special diet considerations to feel at home. It also serves to highlight certain cheeses: We paired this gorgeous brie & rich goat’s cheese with fresh strawberries, blackberries and dried apricots. These selections married beautifully with the ripe sweetness of the fruit.
Crackers, crisp flatbreads, or crusty rustic loaves are an important contrast to the softer elements on these types of plates. Besides adding texture, they can also provide a platform or act as a ‘plate’ for your other foods! These additions help make a regular appetizer board into a real meal. Roasted, salted, or raw nuts also provide a beautiful textural contrast to the rest of the plate.
I like to include something acidic to cut through the fattiness of the rich and savory foods. Here we’ve used French cornichons, but any pickled ingredient makes a lovely addition to the board! A small bowl of whole grain mustard or aged ‘syrupy’ balsamic vinegar can also create new and delicious combinations!
You can use wooden cutting boards, a large platter, a stone slab, really any decorative food safe surface to present your appetizers. Be creative! The mix of textures and colors makes it easy to put together a knock-out charcuteries board! Truly the sky is the limit – have fun, get adventurous, and above all, enjoy!