Visual Feast

cheese platephoto by Agnes Lopez   //  cheese board by Jennifer Harvey
Perhaps the most visually appetizing party appetizer is a cheese and charcuterie board. Not only does it look great, putting one together is a sign that the hostess is not content to serve guests the same tired holiday party fare.
Luckily, one doesn’t have to be an expert on cheese to successfully build a delicious presentation. Learn a few simple rules and you’re good to go.
“You usually want to limit your selection to three, maybe four cheeses. Keep in mind that not everybody likes a bleu cheese. I would make that your fourth and smallest selection,” says Jennifer Harvey, owner of Grater Goods in Murray Hill. “I always suggest people do a soft, a medium hard, and then a hard cheese. It’s good to mix up the milks and textures.”
When it comes to charcuterie, Harvey recommends whole muscle cured meats like prosciutto, culatello or lomo. “I would also suggest the other meat be something ground like a salami or soppressata,” she says.
Here’s where it gets interesting. As we near the holiday season, it might be fun to add a little fall flavor to your cheese board.
“A bloomy rind or soft cheese like brie is awfully good with berries. Bleu cheeses also love sweet things like honey, jellies and compotes,” Harvey suggests. “A fig or cranberry compote would go well with a cheddar or aged gouda.” She also suggests honeycomb, chocolate, nuts and dried cranberries.
“I would do a relish or tart jam—anything that adds depth to the cheese or enhances its flavor,” says Mark Janasik, owner of Southern Grounds coffee shop in Neptune Beach. “Lamb Chopper cheese has notes of caramel, nuttiness and butter, so it would go well with a chardonnay or really dark beer.”
“It’s the holidays, so you gotta step it up. Don’t get your run of the mill cheeses,” Harvey says. “Get one they’re not going to find anywhere.” Try Epoisse, Red Hawk, Mount Tam, Truffle Tremor or Humboldt Fog.
A few more tips: Serve at room temperature. “I would never serve cheese cold,” says Janasik. Figure on about one to two ounces of cheese per guest if the board is an appetizer. If it’s “more of a main event,” says Harvey, put out two-and-a-half to three ounces per person. Cut a few slices or crumble a bit of each wedge on the tray, but not the entire thing. It’ll look nicer. And above all, don’t forget to enjoy yourself, too.