The Cheese or Charcuterie Board

Winter months give me the opportunity to preserve fall fruits.  My native state, Colorado, specifically, the Western Slope, produces, I think, the best apples.  Harvested in the fall, apples stay, wrapped in newspaper, fresh when stored in a dark, cool place about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (104 C).  I make four products from a nice bushel of those apples (other than Waldorf salad), 1) minced meat; 2) Fig Apple jam, 3) Fig Orange Jam, and Cranberry Apple Orange Spice (a.k.a. CAOS, as previously blogged). I tell you this, because the CAOS makes a splendid cranberry condiment (or is it a salad?) accompaniment to the Thanksgiving or Spring harvest turkey meal.  The fig apple and fig orange jams make the perfect pairings for a cheese or Charcuterie boards.

For this blog, I choose to call it “The Spread”, since one offers it to those at table as a “spread.”  Now, I do not doubt that you have not heard of the Cheese or Charcuterie Board.  I find them in many forms at restaurants, cafés, and bistros.  The hands that prepare “The Spread” takes what ever creative license they choose.  The mainstay of my Charcuterie Board, of course is cheeses and meats.  For the meats, I look for Italian salamis, Spanish chorizos (not to be confused with Mexican chorizo, which has the consistency of ground meat stuffed into a casing).  There is a pit smoked summer sausage that I use when available.  Occasionally, I use ham salad (as shown in the featured image).

The cheeses offer another avenue for creativity.  I like to fry Canela cheese.  Its texture squeaks against your teeth, and the browned parts give the cheese another level of texture and add a smoky flavor.  I love Brie in any form. Manchego, a Spanish sheep’s milk with a firm and buttery texture and flavor.  Goat cheese goes well with honey and/or jams.  Boursin cheese is another I like to put on the Spread.  I like to make Boursin cheese from yogurt.  Here’s how:

  • I carton (32 ounces/907g) plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt
  • Herbs to taste (I like to use a blend of dried basil, sun dried tomatoes, oregano, garlic granules, salt, and pepper)
  • Mix herbs, salt, and pepper in yogurt.
  • Pour all into a cheese cloth lined bowl.
  • Wrap and twist the top.  Bind with a clean rubber band or twist tie to make a bag.
  • Find a way to hang the cheese cloth bag (with yogurt mixture inside) over a container to catch the whey as it drips away.  I hang mine at room temperature during winter and hang it in the refrigerator in the summer months.  It takes a bit longer in the fridge.
  • Once you have a firm ball of cheese (think cream cheese or marscapone), then you have your very own homemade Boursin cheese at a quarter of the price!
  • Place the cheese ball in a ceramic bowl.  Serve with crackers or crostini.

Boursin

Other things to add to “The Spread”:

  • Toasted breads
  • Crackers
  • Nuts
  • Fruits (Grapes and apple appear to be my favorites
  • Pickles (I like to pickle okra, cucumbers, and pears)
  • Jams (This is where my Fig-apple and Fig-orange jams make their appearances!)
  • Honey
  • Olives
  • Be creative!

One of my all-time favorite “Spreads” was a time that my friend, Lynn, and I spent the afternoon basking in the shade on a sunny day while sitting in her make-shift wading pool (a galvanized steel stock tank used to provide water to livestock grazing in a field).  Before plunging into the water, we prepared a lovely spread of cheeses, meats, blue cornmeal muffins, sour cream, caviar, hummus, carrot sticks, Caprese salad (chopped), and gravlox. We paired the caviar/sour cream topped corn muffins with vodka served in chilled glasses.  To stay hydrated, we filled glasses with ginger all and limes.  We spent a lovely afternoon watching hummingbird moths gorge on the nectar of petunias.  Here’s our spread:

Snacks by the pool stock tank

Do you see what I mean when I speak of creativity?  On another occasion, my friend, Donna, and I offered plates of inspired canapés, to guests, which I think would go well on a cheese board.  We took grape tomatoes, mozzarella pearls, and basil leaves all skewered onto toothpicks.  We dipped them in my homemade pesto.  On another dish, Donna took thinly sliced Spanish chorizo topped with shaved Manchego.  These paired well with a rich Cabernet Sauvignon or a sparkling Cava.  (Really, I am no expert on pairings.  I just know what I like).  I baked baguettes to go with this.

Tapas

As I write this, I am sad that I did not take pictures of all the Cheese/Charcuterie boads that I’ve prepared in the past three months.  I did take pictures of some ordered in restaurants lately.

The first comes from a restaurant in Wichita, Kansas visited with friends Phil, Paula, and Lynn.  I ordered a burrata (delicious cream and curds surrounded by fresh Mozzarella).  I loved that they crushed pistachios on top of the burrata, and the figs added a rich and subtle sweetness.  It should have been shared, because this was too much for one person.  Take a look at this.

Sample cheese board for one

Finally, I had this little spread on Austin in a little river-side bistro.  Dale ordered avocado toast to accompany my cheese board.

Austin cheese board

The most important thing to remember about the Cheese/Charcuterie board – linger over it slowly with friends.  Remember that term, conviviality? Building your “Spreads” lends itself to building memories with friends and family.  Take time to smell the ingredients.  Aromas tend to connect strongly to memories.  Have fun with it, and be creative.  I leave you with another view of a recent cheese board.  We paired it with Manhattan cocktails.  That’s my crocheting hanging in the background.  Thank you for reading.

cheese board with manhattans

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