How to Expertly Make a Cheese Plate

How to Expertly Make a Cheese Plate

The holidays are upon us. This week is Turkey Day and before we know it, Santa will be here. As a foodie and holiday lover, I find myself attending a ton of holiday events throughout the season—maybe even hosting a few too.

A cheese plate is a must for any good event. It is quick to put together and instantly wows the crowd. But if you are like me, you have probably asked yourself, “How in the heck do I put together a good cheese plate?”

It took years of practice to finally master my cheese pairing skills. I ate a ton of cheese for the good of the cause. At the end of the day the main principal to apply is include all of the tastes and textures. Below are a few more principals that will help you create a great board:

  1. Variety of Cheese is key. I do not expect you to know everything about cheese (I certainly do not), so there are few good ways to get a good variety on your board. Look for different textures and colors. For example, grab a cheese that is speckled with peppers, or one that is encased in a rind. A second way to add a good variety is to pick up a range of softness, get a super hard cheese like parmesan and a super soft cheese like brie. Make sure you have at least three to four cheese featured on your board.
  2. Add something fresh. Cheese is a rich preserved product, so adding something fresh to your plate instantly adds another note. Grapes are preferable, but fresh fruit like apples or pears work great. Who doesn’t love apples with cheese?
  3.  Sweetness. If you have selected your cheeses properly you will have included a cheese that needs a sweet counterpart. Blue cheese loves honey. Another sweet option is a jar of artisanal jam or jelly.
  4. Nuts are needed. Salt and texture come from this addition. Again, another way to add layers of flavor to an otherwise boring presentation.
  5. Throw on some fancy pickled products. I am not referring to hamburger chips or pickle spears. Open a jar of olives, pickled okra, or any pickled vegetable. Including good pickled items adds a pick-me-up to the dish. The vinegar cuts through the decadent cheese and cleanses the palate.
  6. Meats are mandatory. The argument can be made that adding cured meats make the board more of a charcuterie than a cheese plate. I disagree. A few cured meats satisfies the meat lovers in the room and adds even more dimension to the party. I often find myself lean towards prosciutto.
  7. Clean out your pantry. If you are struggling to fill up your board take a dive into your pantry. I often throw together a adequate presentation with just a few items from the pantry.
  8. Serve more than one type of cracker. Nobody wants a sleeve of ritz crackers thrown next to the cheese. Amp it up a little and give your guests a variety of crackers. I also love toasting bread points to add into the mix.

Happy Holidays and I hope you are inspired to get out there and use your own creativity in sharing food for the season.

 

Muscadine & Ricotta on Rye

Muscadine & Ricotta on Rye

Do you know what a muscadine is? It is okay if the answer is no, considering most southerners would answer the same.

My childhood included a giant muscadine vine in the back yard, and most years it produced plethora of the juicy fruits. We had so much fruit growing in the backyard, my mother and I even tried our hand at making muscadine wine. It may have turned out a little on the vinegary side.

A muscadine is the south’s version of a grape but gooier and a bit more tart. They are in season right now and can be found by the carton full at your local farmer’s market. I naturally scooped up more than I could reasonably use in one recipe because finding them inspired me to create.

You can eat them like a grape, but after years of tasting the unique fruit, I can advise you that straight off the vine is not the best option. Roasting them at a high temperature breaks down some of the fibrous material and subdues the chewy fruit. It also adds to the overall flavor since by roasting you are caramelizing the natural sugars.

You can do a lot with a raw or roasted muscadine, but for this years bounty a muscadine toast sounded like an interesting option. A quick call to one of my all-time favorite Savannah restaurants, Cotton & Rye, and I scored a gigantic warm loaf of fresh baked rye bread.

The last ingredient I selected to round out the flavors was fresh, creamy ricotta with a squeeze of lemon.

I think you will find this recipe simple, unique, and quite delicious. Since muscadines are so unique and often difficult to find, I would love to hear you ideas on how to use the fruit.

For another childhood southern recipe click here.

 

Prosciutto & Manchego Cheese Crackers

Prosciutto & Manchego Cheese Crackers

Nutty, salty, crunchy, cheesy crackers—what could be better? I absolutely adore this recipe. It is easy yet a show stopper.

On top of that, this recipe is my take on a southern classic: cheese straws. As a southern girl, my go to cooking style is just that. When I get the opportunity I jump at the chance to revamp a classic southern recipe.

Every true southerner has been to a party or shower and sampled some homemade cheese straws. They are nutty, spicy (because of the use of red pepper), baked crunchy little cheese treats. Like sweet tea, cucumber sandwiches, or deviled eggs, you will can usually find cheese straw on the table of a party that is below the mason Dixon.

A stack of square baked manchego cheese crackers

Although I could not find any reliable sources on the true origins of this southern delicacy, I can tell you the idea behind them (at least in my not-so-expert opinion). The base recipe is a simple, half biscuit-like mixture and half shredded cheddar cheese. You pipe out the cheese mixture onto a sheet pan and bake them until nice and crispy.

Since you use shredded cheese, it is very easy to swap out cheddar with any comparable semi-hard cheese. To make my version a bit more fancy (cue my favorite Reba song), I swapped out the cheddar for Spanish Manchego cheese. Manchego is close to the top of my list of favorite cheeses.

A jar of manchego cheese crackers filled with cripsy proscuitto ham

I wanted to take the flavors a little further and balance the cheese flavor, so I crisped up some prosciutto and tossed it into the mix. You do not have to toss ham in, you can keep the prosciutto soft and serve it on the plate with the cheese crackers. I also thought a note of sweetness would be nice, so I plopped a jar of fig jam next to the platter.

The result, a slightly updated classic that everyone at the party I attended loved just as much (if not more) than the tried and true original version.

As with most of my recipes, this one is interchangeable. You can use any semi-hard cheese, toss in something extra, pair the finished crackers with any cured meat, and use any type of jam you would like. Challenge yourself and see if you can come up with your own winning flavor combination.

A slate tray of two types of manchego cheese crackers and proscuitto ham

Boiled Peanut Hummus

Boiled Peanut Hummus

For this post, you get a very short and simple recipe. This recipe that I love and go back to time and time again, so just because it is easy does not mean it is not delicious. I also wanted to share with you a savory recipe, which I feel as though I so rarely do.

Boiled peanuts are about as southern as it comes, and if you have never tasted them I am truly sad for you. For many southerners boiled green peanuts, although the concept of are one of those snacks that we turn to time and time again. Stop in almost any gas or this post, you get a very short and simple recipe. This recipe that I love and go back to time and time again; however, just because it is easy does not mean it is not delicious. I also wanted to share with you a savory recipe, which I feel as though I so rarely do.

Boiled peanuts are about as southern as it comes, and if you have never tasted them I am truly sad for you. For many southerners boiled green peanuts are one of those snacks that we turn to time and time again. Stop in almost any gas station below the mason Dixon, and you can grab a cup of hot (maybe not so fresh) boiled peanuts. On the short drive to Tybee Island from Savannah, there is a stop to get fresh steaming hot boiled peanuts, and let me tell you there is nothing better than sitting on the beach eating salty peanuts with an ice cold Coke. I even served boiled peanuts as a passed hors d’oeuvre at my wedding alongside pimento cheese sandwiches.

Often times our eyes are much bigger than our stomach, and we buy a bag that is too large to consume. Instead of letting the extra peanuts go to waste, I use them up replacing garbanzo beans with boiled peanuts in my hummus recipe. The result is something salty and delicious, perfect for scooping up with a toasted triangle of white bread.

I use this recipe time and time again because it is one of those dishes that your friends rave about when you bring it to a party or tailgate. When I am feeling extra fancy, and southern, I love to put a jar of the hummus on a platter next to homemade pimento cheese, bacon jam, and my pickled vegetables.

For those of you that have never tried boiled peanuts, I hope this recipe pushes you to step out of your comfort zone, or at a minimum inspires you to create something totally new from an everyday classic recipe.
I included red pepper in the recipe, which is optional. If you are like me and like a little kick, then add it. The hummus is just as delicious without it, so use however much you like.

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