Happy New Year!
In Italy the holiday season isn’t over yet. Ornaments and decorations don’t come down until after La Befana on January 6th. Extending the holiday celebrations, we thought we’d share more party tips. This one is all about cheese.
Gone are the days when chunks of cheese were haphazardly scattered on a platter, along with some water crackers and honey. The cheese board game lately has been upped and we have to learn to play accordingly.
Cheese boards are the easiest way to feed a large crowd (and are very popular on instagram!), but they don’t have to cost a fortune. Here are my tips for assembling the perfect holiday cheese board without breaking the bank.
It’s important to not go overboard with the cheese selection. Buying 4 pieces of French cheese can end up costing you lots and lots of money. I like to instead focus on a total of 5-6 cheeses: shining the spotlight on 1-2 superstars, surrounded with 3-4 valid supporting co-stars. A good idea is filling in the spaces in between with lots of cured meats, dried fruit, crackers, bread sticks, nuts and fresh fruit. You should never spend more than $70 for a large cheese platter. I keep extra slices aside and refill the board as the evening progresses.
The criteria I use to choose my cheeses can be manifold. One great way to approach it is considering variety of milks. I normally will include one cheese for each milk variety:
Pecorinos of all types––like Pecorino Romano, pungent Conciato Romano, Smoky Fiore Sardo or mild Tuscan caciottina di Pienza
Alpine cheeses, Gorgonzola, Fontina, Bitto, Asiago, Parmigiano Reggiano, Gruyère, Raclette, Graukäse
Triple crème, Robiola, Chèvre, Caprino, Cacioricotta,
Buffalo milk & spun curd cheeses
Mozzarella di bufala, Blu di bufala, Caciocavallo, Provolone del Monaco, Burrata
Another formula for choosing which cheeses to populate your platter is going by style. I include one cheese per style:
Brie, Camembert, Fiocco della Tuscia, anything made by Eggemoa
Taleggio, Reblochon, Epoisses, Pont l’Eveque, Livarot
Ricotta, Stracchino, Stracciatella, Lattica, Caciotta stracchinata, Scamorza, Primo sale, Mascarpone
Gorgonzola, Stilton, Roquefort, Bleu d’Auvergne, Strachitunt
Parmigiano Reggiano, Castelmagno, Asiago, Gouda, Formai de Mut, Branzi, Granducato di Castro
I like to choose a nice olive wood board or pewter tray, and fill every nook and cranny with something edible. The key is grouping the food in piles and giving everything different shapes and sizes. I cut the aged cheeses into cubes, slices, flakes or wedges. The spreadable, softer cheeses I place in bowls with spoons for scooping onto crackers. I fold the meats into quarters and roll up the prosciutto in smaller piles. I fill in any empty spots with grapes, pomegranate kernels or nuts.
Guests love it when hosts add palate pleasers like a piece of honeycomb on top of a warmed wheel of camembert, or some candied nuts on top of gorgonzola. The acidity and briny kick of olives and pickles tends to overpower cheese, so I am not very in favor of including them in my cheese boards. But if you absolutely can’t do without olives, pick Gaeta purple olives (like Kalamata, but better), Castelvetrano green olives, oil-preserved and pitted Taggiasca olives from Liguria or black roasted olives tossed with fennel seeds. Small, oil-packed artichoke hearts work well too, but be sure to wring out excess oil before plating. Fresh fruit is always your best bet, so sliced apples and pears, bunches of grapes, blueberries and halved figs are my ideal accoutrements.
What does your holiday party cheese board always include?
Images © whatsgabycooking.com
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, journalist, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her show “ABCheese” is broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso. She loves guiding culturally curious, food-passionate travellers seeking experiences in Italy beyond the guidebook.