With spring here I am finally pulling myself out of the pro-longed hibernation period that affected my social life. I love to host a good party and, equally, I enjoy cooking. However no matter how in control I feel in the kitchen, I always get stressed out the day off. Type A personality, with its fussy perfectionism, rears its ugly head as I rush all over town getting various ingredients from multiple specialty stores, hectically arranging flowers and snapping at my loved ones for ignoring my every psychotically-induced emotional need. The funny thing is that half an hour before the guests enter my home, I am perfectly calm and ready to greet them with a smile. Pulling myself together and having a glass of wine helps. What helps significantly more is a charcuterie board that keeps the guests busy while I finish up the last bits of cooking.
Charcuterie board or plate, if you so desire, is a perfect shared appetizer that is always a hit with guests. I personally love the rustic feel of the large wood server I bought from CB2. Its 26 inches in length accommodate all the various snacks I pile on it and, since we have a rectangular table, allows our friends to reach it easily wherever they may sit. My main rule for a party is to have a table set and a charcuterie board in place when the guests arrive. My grandma taught me that as long as the table is set with nice china, wine glasses, flatware and a chic flower arrangement guests already feel welcome and are assured that the meal is on its way. A lovely set table flowing with wine and appetizers lets my guests feel cozy and invites them to socialize as I rush around in the kitchen finishing up. Even better move is to spoil your friends with a cocktail ready in a cooler as they walk in. Currently I am obsessing with Fragoli Wild Strawberry Liqueur I discovered on our trip to Amalfi Coast. I mix it with some sparkling wine and it is to die for!
Tangents tangents… so here go my suggestions as to what to pile on your very own charcuterie board. There is no way to go wrong and you will learn that it is awfully entertaining to experiment with cheese variations, meats and pickled accompaniments. Arranging them in a colorful artistic way is a treat in itself!
- Manchego (sheep’s milk/hard)
- Gruyere (cow’s milk/semi-soft)
- Hubolt Fog (goat’s milk/soft)
Here variety is key and it is a good rule of thumb to entertain your guests with various textures and milk sources. I like to have one hard cheese, a semi-soft and creamy as well as try a different milk source for each. Your guests will have fun using soft cheeses on crackers with a dab of fig jam or dip a piece of Manchego in honey.
- Prosciutto (or jamón Ibérico)
- Soppressata (or any other cured hard sausage)
The best meat plates have a little bit of everything. Cured, hard sausages are a great place to start. Any specialty store, or Whole Foods, carries a decent selection of flavors, such as fennel, garlic or red wine. Paper-thin dry-cured ham is my next favorite. Prosciutto is easy to find anywhere while jamón Ibérico is more of a challenge to locate and also significantly pricier. Pâté is a crowd pleaser and adds a little intrigue to otherwise predictable staples. Since it usually comes in a loaf-pan shape too large to just plop onto the board, I suggest cutting it in half or smaller pieces and distributing it in multiple areas throughout your charcuterie arrangement.
- Crackers or toasts
You need something bready and carby to accompany all the rich cheeses and meats. With just the perfect amount of crunch crackers will pair well with soft cheese just as well as pâté.
- Spiced Nuts
Fun extras like cornichons and olives add a much needed color pop and also bright acidic flavor to balance out and perk up your meat and cheese choices. I like to also introduce spiced nuts in separate small bowls around the table to keep my guests busy at all times 😉
- Whole grain Dijon mustard
- Jam or chutney
Condiments, though often overlooked, are a must. Sour-sweet jams and grainy mustards help to cut through the richness of the main players and add interest to otherwise savory traditional selections. It is a good place to experiment – apricot chutney, fig jam, grainy mustard can be spooned onto the board or distributed around the table in pretty sauce dip sets.
Enjoy! And if you have images of your charcuterie board or any favorite meats, cheeses or condiments, please comment and share!