Lynda Balslev: Let cheese take center stage during the holidays
The holidays can be stressful, so take the pressure down a notch and feed and entertain with a decorative cheese platter. Cheese is a perfect accompaniment to cocktails, an inviting appetizer or, heck, a casual help-yourself dinner. And with a little thought, a cheese board can take center stage on the holiday table. Everything you need for a cheese board can be purchased ahead, ready to prepare and arranged with simple tips.
Try to balance your cheese selection in strength, texture, flavor and color. As a simple rule of thumb, select four to six cheeses, depending on how many people you are serving. Vary the colors, textures, strengths and milk source, such as a fresh goat cheese, a bloomy pungent or washed rind cheese, a wedge of piquant alpine cheese or butterscotch-y Gouda, a nutty Pecorino (sheep cheese) and streaky blues. Mix the shapes as well, choosing bricks, wedges and molded rounds. And be sure to serve each cheese with its own knife.
Use the farmers market for decorative inspiration and edible garnishes. Arrange the cheese on large leafy greens, such as chard and collard greens, and decorate with curly, frizzy leaves such as purple kale, chicories and frisee. Weave smaller decorative sprigs of herbs and edible flowers around the cheese as aromatic garnishes. Hollow out a small red cabbage or a radicchio head to use as a serving vessel for nuts and olives.
And don’t just stick to cheese. Add savory slices of salami and cured meats accompanied by cornichons. Sweeten up the board with colorful nibbles such as fresh grapes, crab apples, pomegranate arils and persimmon wedges, or dried cranberries, figs and apricots. Serve with a jar of chutney or jam. Add a wedge of honeycomb or a little glass of honey for drizzling.
Select a variety of crackers, crisps and breads for texture, color and consistency: hearty fruit and nut bread, rustic baguette slices, olive oil crackers, seeded crisp breads — and don’t forget to add some gluten-free options, just in case.
Arrange the cheese on a background of black slate or a weathered cutting board, or place a cutting board in a large wide basket. Arrange smaller wooden plates or decorative bowls on the boards to contain runny cheese and fill with crackers, olives and spiced nuts, such as these Bourbon Spiced Pecans.
Bourbon Spiced Pecans
Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Yield: Makes 2 cups
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup bourbon
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2 cups pecan halves
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment.
Combine the sugar, bourbon, salt, cumin, cinnamon and cayenne in a medium bowl and whisk to blend. Add the pecans and stir to thoroughly coat.
Pour the pecans onto the prepared baking sheet and spread out in one layer. Bake until browned and crusty, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and slide the parchment and pecans onto a rack to cool completely. Break the pecans apart and store in an airtight container.
Lynda Balslev is a cookbook author, food and travel writer, and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay area.
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