Building the Perfect Cheese and Shark Coochie…*cough*, I Mean, Charcuterie Board (and some fun family recipes to inspire you)
If your holiday season includes serving as host to family and friends, or if you are like my family and simply like to graze while enjoying time together as a family, a well-constructed cheese and charcuterie (known as “shark coochie” in these parts) board makes your day so much easier! Almost everything can be prepared ahead of time and then placed out when you are ready to relax, open up some wine, while opening up some presents.
The notion of charcuterie shops, and thus boards placed out for a meal, dates back to 15th century France, where cured and preserved meats and fruits was a necessity to making it through the winter months. “Charcuterie” roughly translates to pork butcher’s shop or cooked meat and this industry remains a constant influence in European cuisine. Modern charcuterie boards contain a variety of hand held or small bite items and are perfect for feeding a crowd, offering small bites while enjoying wine, or watching Christmas parades or football games.
You don’t need a fancy cutting board (but if you have been gifted one in the past, this is a great way to bring it out and use it!) and if you want to go with ease of cleaning, you could even use a half sheet (cookie) pan. You can even consider placing your fancy cutting board in a sheet pan (if it fits) for ease in clean up and to avoid olive oil (if you have a bread dip, for example) dripping on your coffee table or buffet. Great choices for this option include wooden cutting boards or marble slabs, certified food grade. You can chill the marble (or granite) ahead of time so that your delectables remain chilled while your guests enjoy them.
In fact, there are some amazing boards and trays out there that would make amazing gifts! Load it up with the goodies, head over to your favorite host or hostess and then surprise them with the gorgeous board for their enjoyment. At The Wine Gallery, the owner, Cindy, will even personalize and make food safe your choice of wooden board. The boards vary in price based off of wood, size, and level of detail for personalization (I have seen one where a hand written recipe was laser etched into the board…what an amazing and special gift!)
Perhaps you are hosting and want to use your buffet or kitchen island to place your charcuterie directly upon. I recommend laying down parchment paper to protect your wood, marble, or granite surface. If you want to involve your guests, perhaps ask them to bring specific items to add to the board, such as Marcona Almonds, a baguette, their favorite jam, or their favorite cheese.
While the choices of cheeses, meats, nuts, fruit, veg, and spreads is entirely up to what you love and enjoy (remember, if you are hosting, the leftovers will be leftover in your home, so as with choosing wines for any party you may throw, I suggest choosing the kinds of foods you and your family will still want to enjoy after the last reveler has departed.) The one key thing to consider is providing a good variety of different flavors and textures. As much as I love bloomy cheeses, I would not put out an entire board of nothing but soft cheeses. You will want some crunchy items, crisp textures, contrast sweet with savory or spicy, throw in some sour and salty items to round it out. If using jams, spreads, pâté, olives (have a bowl for pits!), bread dippers, make sure you have ramekins or small bowls to set them apart from the fruit, veg, meat, and cheeses.
In terms of amounts, I typically go with 2 oz of cheese and meat per person (if I am only doing a cheese board or meat board, then I double it, so 4 oz of cheese.) I like to offer 2 to 3 types of various cheese styles: Bloomy (Brie), Semi Hard (young cheddars, Gouda, Havarti), Hard (Grana Padano, Parmesan, Aged Manchego), and 1 or 2 Fresh (Mozzarella, Chevre) and Blue (Gorgonzola, Roquefort). I also like to offer spreadable cheeses, such as Pimento Cheese, and a homemade cheese ball (see recipe.) Finish out the board with various cuts of salumi (to save time, you can buy pre-cut), nuts (seasoned, toasted, assorted), fresh fruit, and veg (cucumbers, olives, pickled veg, blanched green beans, sugar snap peas), sliced bread, marmalades, mustards, honey, and assorted crackers. It all depends on how many folks you are feeding and how much time you want to put into it. I always have assorted cheese and salumi on hand during the holidays for a quick and easy board to feed my guests if I don’t have time to make a full sit down meal.
Here is my family’s favorite cheese ball recipe…make it ahead and wrap it up in plastic wrap and store in the fridge for up to a week.
Auntie M’s Cheese Ball
1 block of cream cheese, room temp
1 and ½ cups shredded sharp cheddar (I grate my own for fresher taste but bagged works, too); leave ½ cup on the side
½ cup of Pepper Jack, shredded
1 can of canned ham (can leave out as well or go with 8 oz of crumbled bacon, cooled and drained of grease)
3 green onions, thinly sliced and divided
1 package of your favorite Vegetable Dip (Knorr, Hidden Valley, Savory Spice…I like the 7 Onion Dip from Savory) or roughly 3 Tbsp of Ranch seasoning
¼ cup crème fraiche or sour cream
½ cup of chopped walnuts, divided
½ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp black pepper
In a bowl, combine all the ingredients, leaving the divided onions and walnuts on the side, until well combined. Form into a ball and roll the ball in the remaining ingredients you sat to the side to fully coat. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Quick Cranberry Sauce with Leftover Bubbles or Dessert Wines
Take one bag of cranberries, cover in leftover wine (from Christmas or New Year’s Eve), add either honey or sugar (I usually add about ½ cup). Add the zest and juice of 1 orange. Bring to a boil and then drop the heat to medium-low, stirring frequently until the cranberries begin to burst and reduce. Serve warm over a block of cream cheese or allow to cool and serve with your dinner or charcuterie board.
Let’s Talk Party Wines!
No #ThirstyThursday segment with Mandy would be complete without some fun adult beverages (except for #DryJanuary and then we discuss other fun beverages!) So, in honor of the holidays, we have some bubbles, some delicious wines to pair with your holiday table, and some wonderful wines that support local organizations that give back to our community (it was Colorado Gives Day this week, after all.)
We will first chat about our whites. No party is complete without bubbles and we have a lovely and fun Loire Chenin sparkling wine made in the traditional method of the region. Using indigenous yeast, fermentation can take up to six months in large wooden barrels, resulting in a pale gold wine with honeysuckle and orange blossom on the nose and citrus and sea spray on the pallet. Perfect pairing with brie baked in puff pastry or sausage balls (both will be tried on air with Mandy Connell on our December 9th Thirsty Thursday segment.)
Next is another Chenin, but this time a still one from Wade Cellars (Clarksburg, California) called Three by Wade Clarksburg Blanc. It is always fun to compare and contrast different styles and varietals…why not compare and contrast different styles of the same varietal from different regions? Instead of fermenting in wood, this wine is fermented in steel tanks over 30 days. It is rounded out with 5% Viognier and is known for gorgeous aromatics on the nose, while the honeysuckle and lemon zest notes dance on the pallet. Perfect to pair with chevre or aged goat cheese…two items on our Shark Coochie board!
Our last white is from local producer, Carboy, and can be purchased at its Breckenridge location. Called “Soul of the Summit,” and coming in both a white and red blend, 5% of all proceeds go to The Summit Foundation, which helps families and communities within Summit County (for the non-local Colorado folks, this is where many of us go to ski and enjoy our beautiful Rocky Mountains.) Gorgeous wines with a local twist always make for fun party wines…and just look at those labels! Perfect for a mountain soirée.
In addition to the Soul of the Summit Red blend we are trying, we will have two additional reds, both from the Old World. We have Italian (hey, I did marry an Italian and I did encourage you to offer wines you like to drink!) wine that is also a crowd pleaser from Sicily (and specifically, my husband’s people are Sicilian!) An organic wine, this wine from COS Vittoria called Frappato di Vittoria is 100% Frappato (I am also suggesting fun and unique wines to enhance your holiday soirées with new and funky varietals), uses indigenous yeasts found on the grapes’ skins for fermentation, and is 100% a blast in your glass! It has seen no oak, so everything on the nose and pallet is 100% Frappato. Raspberry, red cherry, fresh herbs, and popping acidity, this wine is a must have at any holiday gathering. Pair it with your more delicate salumi, Manchego, and tomato pesto on ricotta.
Also from Sicily, along the slopes of Mount Etna, comes Flavia Rallo, a 1 liter (most wine bottles are 750mL, so more bang for your party buck here). This 100% Nerello Mascalese is another organic wine without synthetic chemicals used in any phase of viti and viniculture. The grapes are hand harvest and fermented with native yeast and aged in Slavonian (one of the four regions of Croatia) oak barrels. Lightly fined and filtered, this party girl is definitely your hippie chick! Smoky, dark fruit with a long and subtle finish, this wine will pair well with vegan salumi made from figs and almonds, cranberry white cheddar, and prosciutto.
All of our wines have a few things in common: great price points ($20-$30 per bottle), low to no tannins, lots of bright flavor notes and acidity, and gorgeous in the glass. Start your festivities with these gems and then as the wine flows, consider going to more reasonably priced ($8-$12) wines…just make sure to offer your guests plenty of non-alcoholic beverages and safe rides home so that all can enjoy your Festivus festivities.
That wraps up this post…until next year: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!