Hey y’all! If you haven’t had enough decadence in your life post-Valentine’s, allow us to add a little more. Today, we’re stoked to collaborate with one of my favorite Houston chefs, Marcia Smart. Marcia is a food writer and cooking instructor who also works full time as a mother of three. She’s written recipes for Cooking Light and has also done freelance writing for Robb Report and Parenting Travel magazine. She recently started her own cooking website, Smart in the Kitchen, which focuses on helping busy moms menu plan with new crowd pleasing recipes for the entire family. I’m a huge fan of Marcia’s and am stoked that she’ll be joining L. Avenue from time to time with recipes, busy mom menu prep and entertaining tips.
Here’s what Marcia has to say about pulling off the ultimate cheese board….
How To Pull Off the Ultimate Cheese Board
There’s nothing easier than unwrapping some cheese and sticking a knife in it, but let’s show some effort, shall we? A well-appointed cheese board, with all the sweet and savory nibbles and condiments to accompany it, can sustain a chatty cocktail crowd for hours. Book club? Check! Cocktail party? Check! Retro cheese and chocolate course after a dinner party? Super double check! The key to keeping things both interesting and delicious? Mix it up…
Variety is the Spice of Life
Start by choosing a variety of cheeses from different milks (cow, sheep and goat). And be sure to vary the textures, some should be creamy and runny and others firm and grainy. And even if you’re not a fan of veiny bleu cheese, there’s nothing like a wedge of creamy gorgonzola dolce and a glistening square of honey comb to get your appetite stirring (which are delicious eaten together, by the way).
If you’re shopping at a good gourmet grocer, look for Humboldt Fog goat cheese, Laura Chenel chevre, St. Andre triple cream cow’s milk brie and Mimolette (an aged raw cow’s milk cheese), aged gouda, Manchego or Pecorino Toscano. If you’re shopping at Trader Joe’s, most of the cheeses are packaged under their brand. A good mix would be their 1,000 Day Gouda, mini Basque, Manchego Anejo, Blue Stilton or any of their Toscano cheeses. I also like to “mess up” the cheeses a little, so people aren’t afraid to jump in. Hard cheeses, like gouda, can be pre-sliced with a sharp knife and fanned out on the board to make them more manageable.
The Homemade Touch
Even if you just choose a couple different cheeses — say a Manchego and a soft goat cheese — you can add a homemade touch by drizzling garlic- and rosemary-scented olive oil on the chèvre (recipe here) For warm, delicious olives, rinse off the brine your olives are packaged in and warm them in good quality olive oil (look for a cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil that’s a rich green color) with red pepper flakes, lemon rind and a bay leaf (recipe here).
Here’s a cheat sheet to help you keep your eyes on the prize. Choose your cheese and 2-3 “extras”:
- 3-5 cheeses (3 is absolutely fine, unless you have a crowd)
- Charcuterie (prosciutto, hard salami or French ham torn in to thin, uneven pieces)
- Crackers and flat bread (Sardinian flat bread, sliced baguette, seeded crackers, as well as rice crackers or endive spears for gluten-free friends)
- Dried or fresh fruit (blackberries, fresh figs, dried cherries, dried apricots or dried wild blueberries)
- Nuts (toasted pecans, pistachios or Marcona almonds)
- Condiments (fig jam, quince paste, and mustards for meats, if serving)
- Cornichons and olives
- Dark chocolate broken up in bite-size chunks
photos by Miroma Photography