Over the next several weeks many of us will be busy hosting holiday parties to entertain friends and family. While I’m working on main courses and desserts, my guests will be making merry; to keep them happily entertained and take the edge off their appetites I will lay an ample spread of cheeses, wines, and charcuterie. My suggestions for assembling a stellar charcuterie board are below.
If selecting and gathering the components sounds daunting, or if you find yourself pressed for time, I suggest you delegate the task to the delightfully friendly and knowledgeable folks at Formaggio Kitchen of Cambridge, Mass. In fact, this charcuterie spread was assembled by them, including suggested wine pairings, and resulted in a stellar feast for the senses.
To provide a little something for every palate, you should offer a selection of crusty breads, cheeses ranging from mild to pungent, and charcuterie including mild and spicy salumi, aged Jamón and Prosciutto, and dried fruits, assorted olives, honey, mustards, and sweet and savory roast nuts. To make it easier, my suggestions are below.
Beaufort Alpage – Gruyère has a flavor very close to our hearts; while living in southwestern Germany not far from the French and Swiss borders we came to love this style of cheese. Beaufort is a distinctive French member of the Gruyère family produced in the town of Savoie. This fine cheese is creamy and smooth with a gently assertive flavor and a pleasantly pungent character. Excellent with wild honey and dried figs, it is an easy point of entry into the world of funky cheeses for the slightly adventurous palate.
Valençay – A French goat’s milk cheese from the Loire valley. An intensely creamy cheese dusted with vegetable ash, it is delicately tangy and incredibly smooth in flavor with delightful hints of citrus on the finish. Exquisite with apricot jam and salumi, I really love this cheese.
Langres Boites – Hailing from the Champagne region of France, this cheese can be pungent at first but mellows after a day or two at room temperature in its wooden box, during which time the pungent aroma subsides and is gradually replaced with a rich creamy aroma and hints of wild mushrooms.
What many Americans would consider a ‘scary’ cheese, the compact and wrinkled exterior gives way to a creamy and tangy interior with nutty, caramelly flavors and deep, funky notes with a bright sunny tang on the finish that is deliciously difficult to describe.
Westcombe Cheddar – This English cheddar has been hand-crafted for more than a century. Deeply savory with hints of hazelnuts and delicate caramel, subtly sweet grassy notes linger on the palate. An excellent cheddar which pairs well with dried fruits, Jamón, salumi, and olives.
Parmigiano Cravero Riserva – This beautiful cheese reminds me of my time in Italy. Emilia-Romagna is handmade by the Cravero family in the area of Bologna. Rich and nutty with a smooth salty bite and a pleasantly fruity finish. Sun-dried tomatoes and dry-aged olives are the perfect accompaniment to this Italian classic.
XO Aged Gouda – One of Jason’s favorite cheeses are aged goudas with crunchy calcium crystals that form during extended aging; very few deliver the sweet and savory punch of this XO aged gouda. Presenting an intensely salty start which gradually sweetens into a lingering caramel finish, this cheese is excellent on its own but also pairs perfectly with the juicy intensity of fresh pears and grapes or sliced baguette and fresh butter.
Now let’s talk wines.
Any respectable charcuterie board is accompanied by a range of carefully selected wine pairings. Below are some suggested pairings for the cheeses listed above.
Valencay – 2017 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre, a Sauvignon Blanc from Loire, elegantly dry with a delightfully tart acidity that balances the smooth, rich flavors of this goat’s milk cheese.
Beaufort Alpage – 2014 Bouchard Père & Fils Grand Vin De Bourgogne Pouilly-Fuissé, with restrained buttery notes, this Chardonnay brings fresh pears and light florals to counter the deep, creamy richness of Gruyère.
I paired both Parmigiano Cravero and Langres Boites cheeses with an exquisite 2002 Piper-Heidsieck Millesime Rare. Honeyed fruits and freshness and acidity, ending with a crisp mineral snap that cuts through rich, dry cheeses to refresh the palate.
For the Westcombe Cheddar and XO Aged Gouda, I like a nice Grenache/Syrah blend, or a Spanish Rioja.
1 1/2 cups cashews
1 1/2 cups almonds
1 1/2 cups pecans
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
2 T. Honey
2 T. sunflower oil
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. cayenne pepper
Preheat oven to 325’F
Place the first 7 ingredients in a bowl and combine. Bake for 15-20 minutes on parchment paper, stirring occasionally until evenly golden. Add black pepper, sea salt, and cayenne to taste and toss. You can keep the nuts in an airtight container for two weeks.
Maple Cinnamon Spiced Nuts
1 1/2 cups pecans
1 1/2 cups almonds
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 T. maple syrup
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cayenne
Preheat oven to 350’F
Place all ingredients in a bowl and combine. Bake for 20-30 minutes on parchment paper, stirring occasionally until evenly golden. You can keep the nuts in an airtight container for two weeks.