One of my favorite things to order at a restaurant is a cheese plate.
In addition to yummy fromage, a “cheese” board will usually also include other goodies: nuts and fruit and garnishments, even tasty meats and crusty bread. I love tasting each item, and then trying different combinations of flavors. It can definitely be enough for a whole meal!
“Cheese and crackers” is pretty much a daily snack around here. When it’s just the two of us, some sharp cheddar or Jarlsburg (John’s favorite) and some boxed crackers are perfect. When we go camping in Betty, there’s usually a meats-and-cheeses situation in the early afternoon. When we explore on vacations, we generally stash a cooler with fruit and cheese in the car for impromptu happy hours.
I put together a fancy cheese plate as part of our holiday party spread. We always pack up a cutting board and a block of cheese for outdoor concerts and picnics. And a cheese board is my go-to appetizer to serve with cocktails for guests. It’s so easy to throw together (no cooking!) and people dive right in.
The other evening, we hosted old friends from out of town at the house for happy hour. Instead of a few different appetizers, I put together a tasty collection of meats, cheeses, and accouterments for one monster cheese board. It was plenty of food, and the variety of items kept it interesting- so many flavor combinations! And I think it’s quite pretty.
I thought I’d share how I make a “fancy” cheese board. First, the cheese! The cheese department at any store is like a playground for me. Yum. I usually pick up three different types of cheese: hard, soft, and stinky. By a hard cheese, I mean something sliceable, like a sharp cheddar or a Manchego. My standard soft cheese is the scrumptious Mt. Tam by Cowgirl Creamery; any brie is delicious. And then I will usually include a bleu cheese or gorgonzola. I like to have different textures and flavors of cheeses.
I don’t always include meat on my cheese boards, but when I do, I just head to the section of the market with the Italian meats. I’ll just make little piles of salami or Capocollo, and always prosciutto. Again, I like having different textures.
I usually include more than one kind of cracker to keep it interesting- a traditional water cracker (or whatever looks good at the store), and my beloved gluten-free rice crackers (people love these!). I’ll also slice up a fresh baguette. (Side: Pirate’s Booty is not just a kid’s favorite.)
And then, a few extra goodies! Since I discovered fig jam, I always include it on a cheese board. It’s delicious with cheese, or with meat, or with fruit. I also spoon some coarse ground mustard into a ramekin. Mustard is so tasty, smeared on a baguette with good meats and cheeses.
To balance out the saltiness of the rest of the board, I always include fresh fruit: grapes, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries. Inspired by a beautiful cheese board we had at a restaurant once that included a chunk of honeycomb, sometimes I’ll include honey.
The last two things I put on this board were a little bowl of Greek olives and some Marcona almonds. I don’t know what makes these fabulous Spanish almonds so delectable but they are my favorite. If I don’t want to splurge, traditional mixed nuts are perfect. Crunch!
I always pull out a couple of hot sauces, mostly for us- we like the heat with our cheese and crackers. But I’m always surprised that just about everyone reaches for the spicy stuff!
This particular cheese board is pretty elaborate. I usually do smaller versions with less stuff, but always have the variety of items so guests have options. Good cheeses can be a little pricey, so I look for what’s on sale. Whenever possible, I try to include local items- Utah has delicious cheeses, breads, and produce! I love that this appetizer is really just about assembling– no prep or cooking involved. And whatever isn’t eaten can easily be wrapped up and stored for happy hour tomorrow.
I am quite content with a crisp glass of white wine and a cheese board. Sometimes, we can just call it “dinner.”
What is your go-to snack to serve when hosting happy hour? Share with me!