If we're going to still be busy with the meal when guests arrive, we like to put out a board of little nibbles, including some cheese.This is the sort of cooking that is really more about shopping, and we're OK with that, when it comes to an appetizer. In fact, we usually start with one good cheese and build from there.
We save large cheese boards with multiple cheeses for desserts or end-of-meal treats; one cheese and a lot of other contrasting nibbles are better when starting a meal.
We think of it in terms of balance; a good appetizer cheese board should have a little of everything:
• Sweet: Usually fruit, like the green grapes above. Snip the grapes into little stems of two or three grapes before arranging on the board. Peaches sliced into thin slivers are nice, too, as well as apples cut paper thin with a mandoline.
• Tangy: Usually a chutney or a fruit or vegetable spread. Sometimes I add a tangy jam, like the ginger and green tomato chutney also on this board. Depending on the cheese, a rich cherry jam is also nice, or a spicier Indian chutney.
• Savory: I like spiced or herbed nuts. The nuts above are sweet and spicy rosemary walnuts from my favorite greengrocer. You could also add some prosciutto or ham.
• Salty: Crackers or nuts. Also, popcorn tossed with olive oil and herbs is a fun starter.
• Creamy: The cheese on this particular board was an unctuous Brie-like goat cheese from Lake Erie Creamery (their award-winning "Blomma" - highly recommended!).
• Crunchy: The nuts and crackers were pleasingly crunchy, in contrast with the tender grapes and oozy cheese.
Presentation is half the package in an appetizer like this. But it's not difficult; I unwrapped the cheese and arranged it with some crackers, and took the nuts out of their plastic box and put them in a ceramic bowl. I left the chutney in its jar, since there isn't a label on the jar, but usually I would put it out in a small ramekin too.
Add a good wine — in this case, an inexpensive but crisp and refreshing chilled vinho verde — and you're all set for happy nibbles.
OK, your turn. What do you like to serve on an appetizer board like this? Any favorite cheeses and pairings? This is such a fun part of building a meal; layering little nibbles like this. What's your favorite combination?
(Image: Faith Durand)