Pick a theme: The board pictured here is…you guessed it, Italian. We began with our new fave salamis and speck from Olli Salumeria, then picked Italian or Italian-style faves to complete the mix. Theme by country…like the classic Spanish manchego, quince paste and Marcona almond combo; stinky (and fabulous) French cheeses and fresh baguettes; or artisan picks from the good ol’ USA with fresh fruit or veggies from the farmers market. Whatever you choose, make sure to include a variety of styles (hard and soft cheeses) and different milk types (cow, goat, sheep).
Think of crowd-pleasing favorites, then raise the bar: Help your friends try new cheeses they’re guaranteed to love. Most people stick to old faithfuls like Parmigiano and Cheddar. Try alternatives to Parm like Piave or Stravecchio, or a superbly savory Cheddar like Bleu Mont Bandaged or Mrs. Quicke’s. Don’t play it too safe, though – mix in some new finds! Goat cheese and blue cheese are two types people think they don’t like – but I’ve found that starting with approachable cheeses like Aged Goat Gouda or creamy Black River Blue, you may just win them over.
Mix in the meat: My most recent dinner guests are still talking about the cheese and bresaola board I laid out a few weeks ago – it was so ample, we followed it with a very light dinner. The center of my wood board was piled high with bresaola and surrounded by various hard and soft cheeses, plus my favorite Marcona almonds and Spanish figs. On another board I had fresh bread and a small bowl of olive oil for dipping. We tried multiple pairings and all worked!
Throw in unexpected accompaniments: Honeys and chutneys, preserved walnuts, and pickled figs are known to get squeals at cocktail parties. Mustard goes great with salami, of course – my new favorite is My Friend’s Brown Ale Mustard (made by a cool chick in Brooklyn). Speck is traditionally served with creamy cheeses, pickled and bread that’s been lightly toasted. Play around – put it on bruschetta for your guests, or in a bread salad.
Portion “control”: Figure 1-2 ounces per person per item. Having 6 people over? Aim for 1/3-1/2 LB. of each cheese, meat and condiment, plus ample crackers or bread.