Summertime is synonymous with footloose and fancy-free living and, as such, entertaining from now through Labor Day should follow suite! Keep that relaxed, no-worries, perpetual-weekend mindset by treating guests a beautiful cheese board brimming with artisanal cheeses, spreads, seasonal fruits, nuts, hand-crafted crackers, breads and other nibbles and noshes. Everyone will be vying for a repeat invite to hang out at your home after being served this satisfying smorgasbord cheese and no-cook snacks!
A cheese board, cheese plate, or cheese tray (whatever the vernacular), is the perfect complement cocktails on the patio or a prelude to laid-back dinner plans. When the temperatures skyrocket and my kitchen “closes down,” I’ll pull together a cheese tray for a simple, no-sweat supper – it’s a life hack learned from my mother during many scorching-hot summers in Arizona. By beefing it up charcuterie-style with various sausages, pâtés and deli meats, a cheese tray can stand-alone as a full meal!
With the right ingredients on hand in the pantry and fridge, most cheese boards can be pulled together in 15 minutes or less -- it’s the ultimate fast food! I have just a few simple ideas (not even rules) about preparing a stunning, summer cheese board.
The most important step to building out a cheese tray is to pick the featured cheeses, they become the edible object d’art. I focused on semi-soft cheeses and selected the rich and robust Blue Cheese Center Cut and Gorgonzola Center Cut from Simply Artisan Reserve. Both have been vintage aged for a minimum of 100 days and cut from the core of the cheese wheel for the most developed flavor.
To take my cheeseboard to the next level, I layer the cheeses with even more flavor. Blue cheese gets topped with cherry preserves (mixed with a splash of balsamic vinegar) and mini-sized dark chocolate chips. Gorgonzola gets topped with sliced dried figs, a drizzle of honey and pepita seeds. The topping combinations may sound strange, but are oh-so crazy delicious together. Get creative and make your own pair-ups.
Also rounding out my cheese tray are seasonal fruits found in the farmer’s market including cherries, grapes, raspberries and black figs. To create a feeling of abundance and keep the tray aesthetically pleasing, I fill every crack and crevice on the platter with nuts, seeds and even a gourmet brownie – you’d be amazed out how well deep, dark chocolate pairs with pungent cheeses! Delicate crackers and slices from a fresh baguette offer a foundation for piling up all this goodness.
Use cheese from Simply Artisan Reserve as the superstar of your summer cheese plate and get creative with toppings and accompaniments. Some summery ideas include fresh garden vegetables like radishes, summer squash and snap peas; pickled delights such as okra, peppers and watermelon rind; basil, mint and other fresh herbs; and edible flowers including lemon verbena and allium are all cheeseboard additions that say – summer, summer, summer!