I’m proud to come from a family of foodies. Though some attach a negative connotation to the word (shout out to Huffington Post and Eatocracy, among many others), I use the term “foodie” endearingly. We foodies are people who, at the root of it all, love food, though it’s more than simply eating the food (or excessively consuming the food, as the case may be). Food is the binding tie, the common ground, the one thing that unites us all, family and strangers alike. It’s about sharing, and connecting, and traditions. Food is love, after all.
My foodie family is big on potluck get-togethers. Everyone brings a dish to share and the host handles the main course: MEAT. As far back as I can remember, there were two dishes we’d consistently have on hand for the hors d’oeuvre hour: potato chips and French onion dip (Lawson’s or Heluva Good only, people) OR cheese and crackers. This was my formalized introduction to the cheese plate. The preferred cracker of choice was the round, buttery kind that disintegrated instantly on tongue contact, and the preferred cheese was Colby Jack. If it was a really special get-together, like my Dad’s annual (epic) Christmas Eve parties, there’d also be some pepper jack and a little bit of Swiss. For the life of me, I never understood why they wasted space on the plate with that shitty Swiss cheese. No one liked it. And at the end of the night, it’d be the only thing left, the last cheese standing, all hard and slightly yellowed from the night’s neglect.
But I digress.
The foodie family lesson to be learned here is that when you tell your guests to “come hungry” you better have something on hand for them to nibble on til mealtime. The simpler the better, because as the host, you’ve got bigger fish to fry. The cheese plate is my go-to, and though mine looks much fancier than the cheese plates of my youth, it comes together just as fast. Plus, cheese tastes best at room temperature, so you can fix it and forget it before the guests arrive.
My cheese board rule of thumb is to include something soft, something stinky, and something special—the wild card, if you will. Three to five types of cheese with contrasting flavors, about 2-3 ounces per person for a light appetizer, or 3-5 ounces for a heavier first course. My selections often consist of brie, blue cheese, and smoked gouda, because those are the cheeses I enjoy, and really that’s what matters most. Whatever you choose, you’ll want to give your cheese room to breathe – don’t mash them too close together or the stinky cheese can taint the more delicately flavored ones.
I love the contrast of soft cheese and crunchy crackers, so I paired my cheese with some original Raincoast Crisps (chock full of pumpkin seed, flax-seed, and sesame seed) and some Salty Date and Almond Raincoast Crisps. The Raincoast Crisps have great flavor that compliments the cheese, and they’re sliced thin, so neither the flavor of the cheese nor the crisp gets lost. (I should note that these crisps are crazy addicting. I’ve been eating the leftovers topped with almond butter for snacks for days.)
As for all the fancy finishings you see, I suggest picking things you like and that you have on hand. No sense blowing the bank on the cheese plate, I always say. Fresh fruit is great with cheese, so I used the red raspberries I had in the fridge along with almonds, cashews, whipped cinnamon honey, and some fresh triple-berry jam my sister made FROM SCRATCH (everyone should be so lucky to have a sister who likes to can), plus some chocolate chunks, because, well, why not? Pickles, dried fruit, fresh crusty bread, and charcuterie (SALAMI, for those of us still avoiding our fancy pants) are great too.
Speaking of foodie get-togethers, this week I’m once again heading to Seattle to join foodies from across the globe at the International Food Bloggers Conference. There’s something magical about surrounding yourself with people whose passions align with yours, and I am beyond excited, even more so than last year (which you can read all about here and here). Plus, I’ll be meeting Lesley Stowe, creator of Raincoast Crisps while I’m there!