Say Cheese!

by Kathleen on July 31, 2010

It’s happened to even the best of us.  After a long day of work, you come home exhausted and don’t feel like cooking. What you do feel like doing is putting your feet up and relaxing with a glass of wine. And maybe a little cheese and crackers. And another glass of wine.

That’s where I come in. I am an unapologetic lover of all things cheese (bacon as well, but that’s for another post…). Melted, cubed, sliced, you name it– I’ll eat it.  I love going to restaurants and ordering a cheese plate to share; it provides a wonderful opportunity to try out new cheese selections and often a fruit or nut pairing that works really well.  The downside is that those delicious looking plates often come with a hefty price tag and a microscopic wedge.  Here’s my budget solution to a gourmet cheese display that takes maybe 10 minutes max to put together pulling things you probably already have in your pantry and your fridge!

From L to R: jalapeno jack, pepperoni, colby jack, strawberries, fig jam, salami, olives, gorgonzola crumbles, berries, brie log

Let’s break the plate down into a few categories: meat, cheese, bread, fruit/veggies, and spreads.  While you don’t have to have everything on your plate, it’s the combination of them that really elevates a fairly lazy dinner.

Start with the cheese you can find in the fridge. Think about what you’d naturally pair with it. Got swiss cheese? How about add a few cut up slices of deli ham? Cheddar? Pull out that salami or pepperoni and add a bit.  For both of those, pickles would go really well– giving a nice, salty bite. Add a few gherkins from the jar, or better yet– call them cornichons and you’re already getting fancy! Look at you!

Next– the crackers or bread. I like to keep a big variety of crackers on hand, for just such occasions.  You could even add a few slices of crusty bread if you’ve got it on hand.

One “must have” for a cheese plate in my home is fruit. Slice up an apple and serve with colby, cheddar, or muenster. Gouda is fantastic with dried apricots. Blue cheese? Use some dried cranberries, or any fresh berry in season. Grapes are an easy go-to as well. Brie pairs well with pretty much any fruit.

Spreads– this is where your display really goes above and beyond the standard. I’ve seen and enjoyed many a cheese plate that came with a bit of honey comb, but who keeps that around? Add a tiny bit of honey to a prep bowl, add a spreading knife, and it’s pretty much the same thing. Similar with figs– I love them, but I never (emphasize NEVER) have fresh figs on hand. What I do keep in my fridge is fig jam.  Not only does it keep much longer, it goes amazingly well with brie and it’ll make a spread for the best turkey sandwich you’ve ever had! A bit of spicy mustard is also an always-welcome addition for that cheddar and salami.

Finally, the extras. I usually pile a few olives and mixed nuts into the fray just for snacking.  Put everything on to a big cutting board that you used to slice the cheese, and voila! No dishes! Depending on your wine/beer leanings, pair the whole deal with a glass of sparkling Italian wine (prosecco) or a lambic-style beer; a decent bottle of either will run you no more than $10. A final note on cheese– the biggest problem with the delectable dairy product is cost. I have never failed to find an amazing selection of affordable cheese at my local Trader Joe’s.  While I’ve found plenty of bargains, quality double-creme brie for less than $4 is something of value.

Now go out there and rummage through your pantry for your own wine and cheese night! Let us know about your favorite cheese and fruit/snack pairings!

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