With the holiday season upon us, we all entertain family and friends a bit more frequently than we might the rest of the year. Unfortunately, this can lead to stress and anxiety over what food and drink to prepare and serve – especially if it’s not too formal an event. We’re all looking for something quick, easy, and delicious that can be enjoyed by a variety of guests. Enter the cheese and charcuterie board!
I love entertaining with a cheese and charcuterie board (CCB) because it’s a great opportunity to enjoy lots of different items and flavors that you might not get to have very often. For example, I would never by a package of duck pate just for myself. Most of it would be wasted as pate is so rich and indulgent that you can really only have a few bites at a time. But it’s a perfect addition here because all guests can try a bit without feeling too guilty. It’s also great to try new items and venture away from your usual selections by choosing a unique cheeses.
Another reason why I always to go a CCB is because it’s quick to prepare. You just slice up the cheese, pull the charcuterie out of the packaging, and off you go. Not to mention, nearly all of these items can be purchased ahead of time (except the fresh baguette) as opposed to needing to rush to the grocery store the day of a function.
Read on as I break down the elements of my favorite CCB and also recommend wine pairings.
Peace + love,
The elements of a good CCB come down to balance and contrast. It’s important to have balanced flavors so one particular item doesn’t overpower all the rest. If you have a few sweet items, be sure to add a few spicy or savory items. If you have something with crunch, throw in something soft or indulgent. Here are a few examples from this board:
- Crunchy crackers vs soft, fresh baguette
- Spicy chorizo vs mild prosciutto
- Sweet honey vs mild olive oil
- Crunchy fig cake vs smooth fig jam
- Firm Manchego vs creamy Brie
- Savory cornichon and olives vs sweet grapes
By balancing the contrasting elements, you’ll give your guests the opportunity to enjoy the flavors in a variety of ways. The manchego finishes one way when paired with a cracker and prosciutto and a totally different way when paired with baguette and fig jam.
Playing off the idea of balance and contrast, I generally try to place similar items on opposing sides of the board so guests don’t have to reach too far across the board. This mean I try to avoid grouping all the cheeses together, all the sweet accompaniments together, etc.
Here are a few of my favorite flavor pairings from this board:
- Baguette, Pate, Honey
- Manchego, Chorizo, Fig jam
- Cracker, Goat cheese, Sopressata
- Baguette, Membrillo, Prosciutto
- Baguette, Brie, Fig jam
- Cracker, Parrano, Chorizo
My wine pairing selections depend on the guest list. If I’m entertaining some fellow foodies, I might try to pair based on cheeses – for example, offering a white burgundy (chardonnay) or pinot blanc for the brie, a tempranillo or cabernet for the manchego, and a malbec or pinot noir for the drunken goat.
If I’m just going with a single wine for the evening, however, I’ll definitely go with a red burgundy (or pinot noir – which is what my friends and I enjoyed after we snapped some pictures of this CCB). Light-to-medium bodied with medium fruit and mild tannin, pinot noir is substantial enough to pair with some of the sharper flavors (spicy chorizo, pate) and soft enough to enjoy with the lighter flavors (brie, fig). In these situations, I stay away from anything on the extremes of the varietal spectrum. If you only serve a gewürztraminer or dessert wine, those flavors will render the fig components, honey, and membrillo way too sweet. On the flip side, by serving only a big, heavy syrah or cabernet, you might be looking for some relief after indulging in the spicy chorizo and sopressata.
Another solid choice for a single wine evening is champagne or sparkling wine. It is the holidays after all and we’re celebrating the season, so it’s a perfect opportunity to pop the good bubbly. More importantly, sparkling wine is one of the best wine varietals to pair with food. In a brut champagne for example, the acid will cut through the fat and richness of the heavier cheeses and meats while not overtaking the other flavors on the board.
There is one rule I always follow above all else – drink whatever you want. If you love merlot then who cares how well it pairs with what’s on the board, just drink the merlot. Wine and food should be about how it makes you feel and I say, just eat and drink what makes you happy. Cheers!