Easier Entertaining is a new GFR series by Kathryn McLean, offering sensible advice on how to buy almost homemade items to harried cooks with guests on the way. – Malcolm Jolley, Ed.
A cheese board is one of the easiest dishes to prepare when entertaining. All you really need is a variety of cheeses arranged on a large board or platter, along with some crackers.
But there’s no reason to stop there, that’s just the basics. Try including a couple of small dishes filled with rich fruit jam and sweet honey. A dollop of raspberry jam atop old English cheddar changes the mouthful entirely. Drizzling a little fresh honey over the strong bite of Gruyere will bring a new taste to the table. And guests will customize, as they like. Also put out a dish or two of plain roasted nuts. Crunchy almonds compliment the softness of cheeses like Swiss or Havarti, and pistachios or cashews are always winners.
The accompanying crackers and flat breads need not simply be basic Ritz or a pre-packed selection of ‘cheese crackers’ from the supermarket. Sure, you should have some plain water crackers, but how about crispy rounds with pumpkin and flax seeds? Or poppy and sesame lavash? Mixing and matching the different types of crackers with the various cheeses will create new tastes with each selection.
And what about the cheeses themselves? You could use a brick of industrial cheddar and a ball of pizza mozzarella alongside a dish of cream cheese speckled with smoked salmon. But you could also try a mix of flavours and textures, of strong and mild, of crumbly or creamy. Wensleydale with dried fruit. Soft goat’s cheese that’s been rolled in herbs. A block of salty feta, a firm wedge of Niagara Gold and a crumbly piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano would all be popular and offer a range of tastes.
Many supermarkets, and smaller grocery stores, carry different types of cheeses from around the world and from around the corner. Canadian cheeses are worth trying, and not hard to find if you are looking. You can get by with the cheeses from these stores. But if you’re going for special, try making a special trip to a cheese shop.
At a neighbourhood cheese shop you’ll find locally made varieties, the knowledgeable staff can recommend different types that work well together on a platter and, possibly best of all, they will often let you taste a slice or two. This way you can buy something new, but know how you feel about it before you present it to your guests. After all, ordinary cheese will do the trick but, really, who wants to offer ordinary when they entertain?
Kathryn McLean is a freelance food writer & recipe developer in Toronto. Visit her website at allfoodlove.wordpress.com.