Cheese and cured-meat boards are having a moment on social media, and it’s no surprise. Hosts love them because they’re graphic and interactive, a focal point that never fails to get a party started. (It’s impossible to stand on ceremony while eating with your hands.) And if you’re not a big cook, putting together a board is a fun, creative way to channel your inner hunter and gatherer. Arranging a mosaic of delicious things to eat is an invitation to adventure, an invitation to indulgence. It’s also a versatile way of serving for all sorts of occasions, from fancy to family-style.
A classic cheese board
A cheese board, which can be as simple or elaborate as you like, works before a meal or as an element of a buffet party.
» For six to eight people, plan on 1 to 2 pounds of cheeses total. Choose three to five cheeses with varying textures and flavors, or perhaps hone in on regional cheeses from one particular country or cheeses made from different types of milk (cow’s, sheep’s, goat’s).
» You can leave the cheeses just as they are, but for visual interest, don’t be afraid to deconstruct them before serving: Cut a log of firm goat cheese crosswise into thin rounds or a small wheel of a soft, oozy Brie-style cheese into fat little triangles.
» Then add some interesting crackers and/or breads — toasted slices of a crusty baguette, for instance, or a nut- or seed-studded multigrain.
» Fill in the cracks with beautiful sprigs of thyme or other herbs as well as olives, cornichons, toasted walnuts, grapes or slices of apple. Whether you lean toward French cured meats (charcuterie) or Italian (salumi), a dry-cured sausage such as saucisson sec or a few slices of prosciutto would fit right in.
» Add a little bowl of fig or caramelized-onion jam, hot pepper jelly, Major Grey’s chutney (great with Cheddar) or honey (fabulous with Parmesan).
» A cheese board can also star as a separate course before dessert or in place of dessert. Corral a wedge of blue cheese (if you find some Stilton, pounce) and sliced pears on a board, for instance, or pair a crumbly artisanal Cheddar with wholemeal biscuits.
Recipe: Pecan Cheese Ball
Recipes for cheese balls rolled in chopped parsley or other ingredients (chipped beef, anyone?) first appeared in American cookbooks of the 1940s — they were often served at ladies’ luncheons — and their popularity continued to grow through the ’70s and ’80s. If you’ve only had a store-bought version, one made from scratch will be a revelation. This recipe can easily be doubled to make two cheese balls. Serve with assorted crackers.
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
4 ounces extra-sharp white Cheddar, finely grated (1¼ cups)
½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
A pinch freshly ground black pepper
A generous ½ cup finely chopped toasted pecans
1 | With a mixer on medium speed, beat together the cream cheese, Cheddar, mustard, Worcestershire and pepper in a bowl until blended well. Mix in a quarter of the pecans. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for a few hours or up to a day.
2 | Form the cheese mixture into a ball. Spread the rest of the toasted pecans on a plate and roll the ball to coat. Cover and chill until ready to serve, up to 2 hours.
A Mediterranean board
A quick perusal of your supermarket’s refrigerated deli section will reveal a number of hummus varieties — from plain to roasted red pepper, garlic or beet — as well as other dips spreads such as tzatziki, taramasalata and baba ganoush. Group them together on a board and you’re off and running.
» Make store-bought hummus your own. Use the back of a spoon to swirl the surface into little hills and valleys. Then add:
• a drizzle of good olive oil and roasted canned chickpeas
• chopped fresh parsley, mint or dill
• pomegranate seeds
• a sprinkle of smoked paprika, ground cumin, za'atar, Aleppo or Maras red pepper flakes, even “everything” bagel seasoning
» Give the board a colorful note with roasted bell peppers or simply jarred peppadew peppers, which are mild and tangy-sweet.
» Mixed olives and caper berries provide bursts of brine.
» Look for canned or jarred stuffed dolmas (grape leaves) at a Mediterranean market, and if you don’t have one handy, no problem: The ones at Trader Joe’s have become a cult classic.
» In addition to crackers, cut pitas into triangles and warm in the oven or on the grill.
» Simple crudités — cucumber spears, carrot sticks and/or cherry tomatoes for instance — add freshness.
» Craving cheesy, creamy richness? Add some feta, drained and broken into large crumbles, or slices of grilled or pan-fried halloumi.
» If the grill is on, grill some lemon halves and tuck them into the overall mix. They’re delicious squeezed on almost everything.
Recipe: Muhammara (Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Spread)
The secret ingredient in this delicious spread is pomegranate molasses, which has a sweet-savory complexity. The recipe below calls for only a couple of teaspoons, but you’ll find other uses for it: Drizzle it over roasted beets, eggplant or plain yogurt; whisk it into a marinade or vinaigrette; stir it into beef or lamb braises or stews. It’s available at Middle Eastern markets, some supermarkets and online sources.
3 garlic cloves
A pinch of coarse salt, or to taste
1 jar (about 7 ounces) roasted red peppers, drained and patted dry
2/3 cup finely ground fresh bread crumbs
1/3 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped, plus extra for garnish
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses (see above note), plus extra for drizzling
1 teaspoon ground cumin
A pinch of red pepper flakes, or to taste
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1. Chop the garlic and mash to a paste with salt. Put in a food processor and add the peppers, bread crumbs, walnuts, lemon juice, molasses, cumin and pepper flakes. Purée until smooth.
2. With the motor running, add the oil and process until blended well. Put in a bowl and garnish with walnuts and a drizzle of molasses.
The best wurst board
On Long Island, pumpkin ales are flowing, the breezes have a hint of autumn’s chill, the days are definitely getting shorter, and everyone is in the mood for substantial fare. A board centered around juicy brats and other sausages fits the bill for game day in front of the big-screen TV or a casual supper around the firepit.
» Sausages to look for include bratwurst, knockwurst, weisswurst (bockwurst), kielbasa — whatever suits you. Cook the sausages according to the package instructions, and if so inclined, slice them on the bias for ease of serving. (Provide plenty of toothpicks or little skewers.) Slices of liverwurst can add a cool, creamy note.
» Little bowls are always handy for mustard and other condiments, but to give your board an in-the-moment feeling, do this instead: After placing the sausages on the board, put dollops of various mustards straight on the board, using a butter knife to smear them into artful shapes.
» Sauerkraut is a no-brainer accompaniment, but you might also want to think about cooking down a skillet of onions until they’re caramelized and jammy.
» Leave room on the board for cornichons or gherkins, slices of an aged Gouda and/or apple wedges.
» Have fun with the breads: Think multigrain crisps, thin slices of dense German whole-grain bread and large pretzels, both hard and soft.
» If something potato-y is desired, this can be ultrasimple (potato chips) or slightly more involved. A German potato salad, made with vinegar, bacon and chopped parsley and served warm or at room temperature, turns a sausage board into a satisfying meal.
» Beer is the ultimate thirst-quencher, but a terrific nonalcoholic option is Apfelschorle — apple juice or cider mixed with sparkling water.
Recipe: Apple Fennel Salad
A crisp, refreshing salad cuts the richness of the sausages, and is so easy to pull together, you don’t really need a recipe. What does make this type of salad a snap, though, is a handheld slicer like a mandoline or a Japanese Benriner (available at cookware shops and from online sources). Don’t have one? No worries. A sharp knife will stand you in good stead.
1. Make a basic vinaigrette: Whisk together 2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar, ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon minced shallot, ¼ teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Whisk in 1/3 cup mild olive oil until blended well. (This makes about ½ cup.)
2. Cut a fennel bulb or two in half and thinly slice on a handheld slicer. Cut a couple of celery stalks into thin slices. Cut an apple or two in half and core, then thinly slice. (Two varieties that resist browning are Granny Smith and Pink Lady.)
3. Combine the fennel, celery and apple with a handful of arugula. Whisk the vinaigrette to combine again and adjust seasoning if needed. Lightly dress the salad with vinaigrette and toss gently. Garnish with toasted nuts if desired.