Recommendations on Cheese Boards, Charcuterie, and Spreads and Dips
by Natalie Ortiz
The holidays are a time for sumptuous feasts, and one of the best things about holiday parties is the assortment of appetizers — all of the different flavor and texture combinations to delight your senses. Whether you’re having a holiday open house or a full-on sit down meal, you’ll want to have some options for your guests to nibble on while they enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail. A beautiful grazing tablescape is the modern version of the passed or plated hors d’oeuvres of the past. These displays are often presented on a large round or long table in the center of a room and are truly the way to go as the set up encourages guests to mingle, linger, and spread holiday cheer.
There are three things that are absolute must-haves to make a complete and interesting grazing table: charcuterie boards, cheese platters, and flavorful spreads or dips. This trio of options is a smart choice in an already busy time of year as they require little to no cooking and all selections, including the cheeses, can be served at room temperature leaving you free to spend time enjoying your guests. What helps turns the grazing table into an aesthetic delight are the accompaniments and edible garnishes — they are a great way to highlight the best of what’s available locally and seasonally while adding color and flavor.
Think of a cheese board as an artist’s palette- different textures, flavors, and milk varieties will spark curiosity and a selection of colorful accompaniments will embolden your guests to try something new. You’ll want to plan for about 3 to 4 ounces of cheese per guest and about four to six different varieties to ensure you’ll have something to please everyone. To make it easy (because one can be overcome with analysis paralysis when standing in the cheese section), I’ve shared some combinations of cheeses that are sure to be a success. Don’t fear if you can’t find the exact variety, just ask your cheesemonger to assist in making a substitution of something similar.
Classic: Aged Cheddar, Gruyere, Chevre, Emmental
International: Manchego, Aged Gouda, Brie, Roquefort
Creamy: Garrotxa, Triple Cream Brie, Tallegio, White Stilton
Flavor Burst: Red Dragon with Mustard Seed and Ale, Stilton with Cranberries, Red Wine Toscano, Truffled Brie
Aged: Pecorino Toscano, Manchego Anejo, Edam, Queso de La Serena
Charcuterie, which is enjoying a revival recently, was actually a way of preserving meat products before modern refrigeration. There are several categories that fall under charcuterie: salted meats, forcemeats (ground lean meat emulsified with fat and seasonings), cured sausages (forcemeats encased in synthetic or natural tubing and then are cooked and cured), rillettes (salted meat that is cooked to render the fat and soften the meat resulting in a paste-like spread), pâté (ground meat, usually duck or chicken liver, that is heavily seasoned, put into a vessel, and then cooked in a water bath), terrines (similar to pâté but with a more coarse texture), and mousses (similar to a pâté but a lighter, silkier texture obtained by adding cream, eggs, or incorporating more air).
Classic Selection: Mortadella, Salami, Pepperoni, Prosciutto
International: Jamon Serrano, Bresaola, Hot Coppa, Saucisson Sec
Flavor Burst: Red Wine Salami, Fennel Sausage, Chorizo Iberico
Creamy: Foie Gras Pâté, Pork Rillette, Truffled Mousse
Spreads and Dips
No grazing table would be complete without these! Plan on offering three to five options for your guests, and vary the flavor profiles. I’ve included three recipes that are sure to be a hit at your holiday party.
Accompaniments and Edible Garnishes
Dress up your table with an assortment of these colorful, delicious additions
Sliced or broken yeast breads and flatbreads, crackers, grissini
Dehydrated vegetable chips such as beet and sweet potato
Pickled vegetables such as okra, green beans, Giardiniera, beets, jalapeños, assorted cucumbers
Brined items- olives, artichokes, and lupini beans
Nuts and dried fruit
Jams, compotes, chutneys, fruit pastes
For a downloadable, printable version, click here.
Sun Dried Tomato Jam with Ricotta
1 cup sugar
1¼ cups white Balsamic vinegar
12 oz. sun dried tomato strips, diced (dry, not oil packed)
Whole milk high-quality ricotta cheese
Place all items in a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until thickened.
Remove from heat, cool until safe enough to handle and with an immersion blender, blend until desired texture is achieved. Because this will be paired with a smooth ricotta, I like to leave the jam with chunks of sundried tomatoes to vary the texture.
Serve at a ricotta to jam ratio of 2:1
Smoked Salmon Spread
15 oz. creme fraîche
8 oz. Scottish style smoked salmon, thinly sliced
4 oz. cream cheese
4 Tbsps. chopped fresh dill or 2 Tbsps. dried dill
Capers for garnish, optional
Place creme fraîche, smoked salmon, and cream cheese into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until a mousse-like consistency forms.
Add dill and pulse a few times to incorporate.
Serve in a bowl or pipe onto individual crackers just before serving.
Olive and Chickpea Spread
1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and drained
2 cups Manzanilla olives, stuffed with pimentos, drained
1 cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup good quality infused olive oil
Fresh chopped parsley, for garnish
Add olives and chickpeas to the bowl of a food processor.
Pulse several times, just enough to ensure a uniform size on all items. Do not purée; mixture should be chunky.
Drizzle just enough olive oil to coat the pieces and mix gently by hand.
Serve in a bowl, garnished with parsley.