There are a lot of things that take the subject of cheese to a deeper level than just grabbing a block from your local grocery store. Especially these days. With the dawn of exported foods and easy travel, we have variety available to us like no other time in history. We have also entered a period of local craftsmanship and animal husbandry (fancy term for raising animals in case you were wondering!) that allows us to access food raised and crafted in our local cities and towns. Throughout California and other states, you can meet your farmers and ranchers and even tour their fields and farms. Not only is it possible (and has been for a while now), but its becoming more and more encouraged by these small family farms. They want you to come and see what they are so passionate about!
As people learn more about their food and where it comes from, it opens us all up to a whole world about history and techniques as well as traditions and flavors. This was our favorite part of learning about cheese.
When we moved to San Luis Obispo county in 2012, the whole farm-to-table atmosphere was really becoming popular and extending outside the bigger cities. While it had been around for a long time, it was just starting to catch on in our little college town. Tapas, or small plates, were becoming popular and people were enjoying meals together at a relaxed pace instead of scarfing it down in their cars on the way home.
Dave started working at a popular restaurant in downtown San Luis Obispo that embraced this relaxed way of eating. Tapas was totally new to us as a term but, growing up in small towns with medium sized families had already made us accustomed to family style meals filled with conversation. What we hadn’t experienced yet, was the elegant and classic styling that took place when a passionate chef and restaurant put their spin on “family style.”
One of the first things we discovered were the terms, “charcuterie” and “cheeseboard.”
char·cu·te·rieˌ(SHärˈko͞odərē) noun: charcuterie1. Cold, cooked meats collectively2. To cook and preserve meats, often pork and similar products, using salts, spices and other methods.
Before the dawn of refrigeration, people used these methods of preservation to allow meats to last longer without making people sick. Using curing salts and spices to draw out moisture and reduce the risk of mold and bacteria growth in the meats, cooks were able to provide meat and nutrients in situations that would have ordinarily made this impossible. Jerky, sausages, pâtés, gravlax, and bacon are all forms of preserved meats using these methods and they’ve been around forever! Today, these meats are preserved for their flavors more than their long shelf life. We have fridges everywhere and don’t necessarily need preserved meats for nutrition. Thankfully, people loved these foods for their flavor profiles and the way they paired with other things, namely cheese!
Enter the cheeseboard!
A cheeseboard (or cheese course) is often served at the end of a meal, frequently replacing dessert. It has also become popular as an appetizer course when gatherings and parties are hosted in a more relaxed atmosphere. A cheeseboard typically has multiple cheeses with accompaniments, such as charcuterie (see above), crackers, baguette, berries, nuts, crisp veggies, mustard, honey or chutney. Port or other dessert wines may be served with a cheeseboard as well as various types of wine depending on the party or occasion.
When you combine these two delicious food categories, you end up with a complete meal that’s both satisfying and delectable. It can be customized any way you like and is probably one of the easiest ways to serve food to a group, large or small! We give mad props to whoever came up with this beautiful invention. They either were incredibly rushed and slapped some stuff together, or incredibly ingenious and knew everyone would get a kick out of mixing and combining the never ending flavor combos.
So what should you plan on including with your cheeseboard?
Here are some simple tips to start you off. We’ll get into different cheeses and pairings in another post, but for now, this should give you some ideas to get you started:
To start with, a medium sized butcher block or other type of board. We have small, medium and large maple butcher blocks that we pull out for get-togethers. We use a simple plastic board if we are taking it to the beach. Medium is a good multipurpose size to start with.
For each person expected to partake…
- 1 to 2 ounces of cheese (up to 4 ounces if it’s the main dish at your party)
- 3 tablespoons nuts (candied or spiced nuts are a huge hit!)
- 5 pieces of fruit (we like to have variety so we often serve berries, grapes and something crisp like apples.)
- A small handful of crisp vegetables (carrot sticks, celery, pickles, etc.)
- 3 ounces of preserved meats ( We will probably do a whole post on what meats to include. Stay tuned!!!)
- 3 to 4 tablespoons of various condiments (think mustard, honey, chutney, relish etc.)
- 3 to 4 slices of toasted baguette or crackers
Remember that its always better to have too much than too little. Within these items, pick what you like to eat and we suggest trying one or two different items in a new flavor or variety than you are used to. When it comes to the cheeses and meats (the most expensive part of the board!) we usually set a budget and go from there. If we can afford it, we’ll talk to our cheese lady and see what she suggests. No one knows their cheeses like the purveyor or cheese maker themselves and they can usually work within your budget while still introducing you to great new products.
What do you like to include on your cheeseboard? Leave a comment below!