I love the art of entertaining. Nothing gives me more joy than hosting a dinner party. Every fellow hostess with the mostest knows the feeling; friends are beginning to trickle in while you effortlessly multitask, gracefully making introductions and cocktails. The table is beautifully set and the candles are lit. Music is playing at the perfect volume and there’s a symphony of oohs and ahhs from arriving guests impressed by your domestic prowess. Everything is falling into its well planned place….until you open the oven to discover the overly ambitious souflee you’ve prepared for the entrée looks like a scary, chunky porridge even Oliver Twist would refuse and nothing like the recipe’s photo on MarthaStewart.com. It happens to the best of us.
Whether you’re hosting a formal dinner party for 20 or a casual girls’ night with a few gal pals, its always a good idea to have an appetizer ace up your sleeve; an easy, elegant horsd’ouevre you can lay on the table for a guaranteed win. With a level of difficulty on par with opening a bag of chex mix, a well planned cheese plate is an uber-posh, simple nosh guests can graze on while you tend to the finishing touches of the main course. (i.e. google ‘how to fix a runny souflee’ or the phone number for Papa Johns).
The key to a successful cheese platter is variety. Aim for a spread that includes savory and sweet, mild and robust, creamy and crumbly, a bevy of options across the board. You want a collection of different colors, textures and flavors: the cheeses taking center stage with a supporting cast of fruits, nuts, jams and meats. You really can’t go wrong when selecting ingredients but here’s my shopping list, just in queso:
The Main Ensemble: 4 types of Cheese
~ a spreadable Goat cheese
~a soft Brie
~a hard Cheddar or Manchego
~a strong Bleu like Stilton, especially one with dried fruit
~a few kinds of crackers. Whether you prefer putting on the ritz or opening sesame, simply buy what you like. My wise-cracker tip: lean towards more subtle flavors that take a subordinate role to the big cheese.
~ a couple of juicy, crisp apples, when sliced cleanse the palette and fare well with Cheddar.
~bunches of grapes, more as decor, they transform the platter from dull board to a Monet worthy arrangement for hardly any mon-ey.
~go nuts with some almonds or walnuts, cashews or macadamias, anything you have lying around, anything but peanuts.
-find the perfect cure to make it all better. Thinly sliced prosciutto or hard salami, whichever cured meat looks best at your deli.
– You’re still reading? I knew I liked you and because I like you I will, (to my mother’s chagrin) divulge a secret ingredient that will change your cheese platter life forever. It is heaven in a jar. A delightful blend of brown sugar, mustard, pecans and spices; Dr. Pete’s Praline Mustard Glaze adds gourmet to everything it touches. You can find it at the Green Turtle Market, (that is if my mother hasn’t already cleared the shelves in an attempt to stockpile before this article goes to press).
Once you get home with all of the ingredients, its time to get to work.
- First, unwrap the cheeses and place them on a wooden cutting board, (or marble if you fancy), each with its own knife. Position the cheeses far enough apart that when slicing the cheddar, you don’t end up with a knuckle full of havarti, that’s no gouda.
- Next pour the nuts, jams, and other chosen sauces (*wink, wink) into separate small dishes or ramekins. I like to use vintage teacups because they’re pretty and feminine and I don’t own any ramekins. Don’t worry, we’re almost done, but pour yourself a glass of wine if you need it to push through.
- Now, for the final step place the meats and (washed) fruits in the empty spaces of the arrangement and Voila! You’re finished, you domestic goddess, you! Cheese is best served at room temperature and, lightly covered, can sit out for a few hours without any harm, meaning you can prepare it well before the guests arrive and use that extra time to focus on more complicated dishes, you know the ones that require stirring or God forbid, a saucepan.