Haaay! I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas! We had a blast, enjoying time with the kids, the rest of the family, and worshiping at church. But… we still have one more celebration to go. My mother in law is an RN and had to work this year on the big day, so we’re wrapping some more Christmas plus some New Years into one and celebrating this weekend. It’s going to be a great time and we’re all very excited at my house for the weekend to come. You know the kids certainly aren’t complaining about two weekends worth of Christmas! (The only downside is that Christmas break from school ends just after New Years.)
How about you guys? Big New Years plans? Doing the crazy night life thing, staying in for a romantic evening for two, or perhaps throwing a party? It all sounds fun doesn’t it?
Well, I figure there’s not much cooking to be done if your heading out for a night on the town… but if you’re going the staying in, be it an evening two, or hosting a party, we should probably talk cheese board. (And even if you are going out tuck this post away for future reference. There is many an occasion throughout the year that would benefit from the well selected cheese board.)
Now, I personally consider a cheese board to be among the perfect foods for New Years Eve. My logic:
- After all the holiday kitchen work (i.e. Christmas baking, big dinners…) we all want something simple to put together for New Years right? That way we can just chill and enjoy the fun. Cheese Board=Super Simple. You won’t be spending hours in the kitchen with this one.
- And yet, despite it’s simplicity a cheese board is appropriate for serving at a chi chi party. It also happens to be perfectly appropriate eating at home on the couch in your pajamas while bing watching your favorite shows until midnight. (Though we call it a plate of cheese in this scenario because cheese board sounds kinda silly when your wearing bunny slippers.)
- The cheese board is universally liked. I mean come on, everyone likes cheese! Everyone. Well except the dairy free folks. But they like meat, olives, nuts, crackers, and all the other awesome goodies that belong on a cheese board. (Okay… just thought of vegans. Cheese boards don’t work for the vegans. But otherwise…. universally liked.)
- Cheese pairs incredibly well with champagne, wine, cocktails, water, apple juice, milkshakes… and well pretty much everything you might choose to drink on New Years. (Or eat for that matter.)
Clearly you see the brilliance, right?
So putting together a killer cheese board is actually super simple. Follow the steps below, and you’ll pull together a winning spread every time.
Step One: Select your cheeses & meats.
- A great cheese board has no required number of cheeses or meats. However I find the sweet spot for me to be 3-5 cheeses and at least one meat. (Three is enough for variety. Five is good if you’re serving a lot of people. More then that and you don’t really end up tasting half of it!)
- There are also really no super special requirements for picking your cheeses. Go wild, try things. Pick old favorites. However, I do find this to be a great rule of thumb when making my selections: Pick one hard cheese, one soft cheese, and one familiar cheese. This ends up giving you a well rounded cheese board that has a variety of textures, flavors, and yet, has one familiar cheese for the less adventurous eaters.
- For example: The cheese plate shown in my pictures has four different cheeses: Walnut Gourmandise, a somewhat soft creamy cheese with sweet walnuts running in veins through the middle of the cheese. Prima Donna Red, a hard cheese similar in texture to parmigiano reggiano, but has the assertive flavor of gouda. Sharp Cheddar, a familiar but tasty cheese that almost anyone will happily eat. And Pepper Jack, also fairly familiar, but a totally different flavor then the Cheddar. (If I’d had time to hit the right store I would have added an Oregon Blue to the plate as well!)
- I love adding at least one meat to my cheese board to round things out. Pretty much anything Italian will be an amazing addition to your cheese board. Think prosciutto, pancetta,mortadella and salami. (My plate pictured has mozzarella wrapped prosciutto.)
Step Two: Pick some crackers, breads, etc. (AKA: stuff to put the cheese on.)
- While secondary to the cheese, a nice selection of crackers and breads really brings a cheese board together. Everything from the simple ritz cracker, to thin sliced French bread, to crispy bread sticks, to pita chips is an awesome addition to a cheese board. I usually try to have at least two different things to put the cheese on, with at least one of the items being a cracker. If you really want to give your cheese board some pizzazz try making your own homemade crackers. It seriously takes things up a notch. Or ten. The recipe for the Sourdough Herb Crackers in the pictures is at the end of this post. (Amazingly, homemade crackers are super easy to make, and unsurprisingly super delish!)
Step Three: Fill it in. (i.e., olives, nuts, spreads, and maybe a bit of sweet stuff.)
- Honestly, you could technically be finished with your cheese board after steps one and two; but step three where we really bring it home. You don’t need to add a zillion extra things to your board, but adding a few items from the list below will take things from a nice selection of cheese to a simply amazing and decadent cheese board worthy of the holidays. As a general guideline I’ll add at least one or two “extras” to my cheese boards.
- Olives- Any type of olive is always welcome on a cheese plate. Experiment and find your faves. I pretty much can’t put together a cheese board without olives. It just works. (My pictured plate has an artisanal blend of olives that was packaged in oil and a nice spice blend. Another favorite of mine is anchovy stuffed olives from Roland.)
- Dipping Sauce/Spreads/Drizzle – A little dish of spicy grainy mustard or sweet jam can be great for dipping and spreading alongside the cheese, and really adds to the variety of flavors on the plate. Some cheeses are also perfect candidates for a drizzle of honey or balsamic vinegar. (My pictured plate has balsamic drizzled on the Prima Donna, and honey on the Walnut Gourmandise.)
- Nuts- Salted, candied, or simply roasted, really nuts any way are a perfect accompaniment to cheese.
- Dried or fresh fruit- figs, apricots, strawberries, grapes… Keep the fruit seasonal or dried and try to think about flavors that will complement the flavors of the cheeses you’ve selected. If your concerned about picking complimentary flavors, try figs, pears, dates, or dried apricots. They pair well with nearly every cheese.
- Dark Chocolate- A little bit of good dark chocolate can be a surprising but welcome addition to the board. If you do choose to add chocolate keep it dark, and cut or break it into small pieces for easy grabbing. We don’t want to turn our cheese plate into dessert, but a little sweet is a nice complement to the generally salty cheese.
And that’s all you need to know!
And then it’s time to crack open that champagne! Happy New Years!
P.S. Just wanted to let you know that I’ll be taking a little blogging hiatus for the month of January. Well, not to say I won’t be working madly in the kitchen working up new recipes to share the entire time, but I won’t be posting again until February. (Hopefully I’ll sneak a little R&R in there somewhere too.) I’ll still be answering comments and email, so do feel free to get in touch if you need anything! I look forward to being back in February!
Sourdough and Herb Crackers– Yields about 75- 100 crackers depending on how thin they are rolled out. Adapted, barely, from King Arthur Flour.
- 1 cup all purpose or wheat flour
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt + additional for sprinkling over the tops of crackers
- 1 cup unfed (discard) sourdough starter*
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons Herbs de Provence
- 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
- olive oil for brushing crackers
- fresh ground pepper, if desired
- Mix together the flour, salt, sourdough starter, butter, Herbs de Provence, and garlic powder until you have a smooth, not sticky dough (this step goes really quick if you use a mixer0. Shape the dough into a rectangle and cover with plastic wrap. Be sure that the herbs and garlic are well distributed. Refrigerate the dough until firm but not hard, about 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400* with the rack placed in the upper center. Place the chilled dough on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper. Lightly flour the dough as well, cover with an additional sheet of parchment paper and roll the dough out into a large rectangle about 1/16th of an inch thick. (Note: If you roll the dough out thicker you will end up with chewier crackers similar in texture to a pita chip.) Its ok if the rectangle isn’t perfectly neat.
- Remove the top sheet of parchment paper from the rolled dough and transfer the dough on the bottom sheet of parchment to a baking sheet. Lightly brush the dough with olive oil using a pastry brush and sprinkle with additional sea salt to taste. Sprinkle lightly with fresh ground pepper as well, if desired. (Go light on the pepper, it’s delicious, but overwhelms very easily if too heavy.) Use a sharp knife, pizza wheel, or pasta wheel to cut the crackers into squares or rectangles. (I used a pasta cutter to get the pretty edges.) Prick each square/rectangle with a fork to prevent puffing. (If you want a texture closer to a pita chip, skip the poking with a fork.)
- Bake the crackers at 400* for 18-20 minutes until lightly browned. The edges will be somewhat darker. Allow fully cooked crackers to cool fully before storing or serving. Crackers can be stored in a ziplock or other airtight container for a week.
Notes: *You can check out this link from King Arthur Flour if you need more info about sourdough starters/ sourdough discard.