As summer winds down and autumn’s busy schedules loom, gathering with friends always takes on greater urgency for me in August.
Since we spend most of the summer in the mountains where the first signs of fall can be felt in mid-August, planning our get-togethers usually means dining al fresco on the front veranda or in the shade provided by nearby trees so we can enjoy cool breezes and beautiful sunsets.
I love gatherings that feel relaxed and fun for guests but are easy for me — especially in the summer, so one of my go-to dining solutions is a charcuterie board.
Charcuterie boards come in all shapes and sizes. Last summer, when many of us were maintaining 6 feet of distance, I created individual charcuterie boards for each guest. They were such a success that I occasionally still use this approach.
A set of six oval wood boards intended to hold small, individual cast iron skillets were the perfect mini charcuterie boards. I turned them upside down and used the smooth surface of each board. On the other hand, a large charcuterie board always garners ooh’s and ah’s from my guests, whether served as a starter for a meal or as the meal itself.
Recently, I created a charcuterie board on a grand scale while filming a pilot for a new national television cooking show. The board was 24 by 16 inches and was filled with assorted hard and soft cheese wedges, slices of Genoa salami and Soppressata arranged in overlapping patterns, and paper-thin slices of Prosciutto di Parma, which I draped loosely for an artistic effect.
Assorted Greek olives, clusters of red grapes, a small ramekin of sweet cornichon pickles, a small bowl of Dijon mustard for the meats and another of fig spread for the cheeses, thin slices of Cosmic Crisp apples that wound through the board without turning brown, and a selection of crackers and sliced baguette created an abundant, irresistible display big with wow factor. I designed this board as a starter for a crowd, but it could have served as a complete meal for a smaller group.
For everyday entertaining, I suggest a simple charcuterie board with no more than three or four cheese wedges, assorted crackers or thin slices of artisan bread arranged in an overlapping pattern, clusters of dates, grapes, nuts, prosciutto or another favorite charcuterie meat, small bowls of condiments, and a selection of olives. Arrange the board an hour before guests arrive, cover it with plastic wrap, and set it aside to allow the cheese to soften without drying out.
Charcuterie boards are becoming quite the rage, and they vary from savory to sweet, so if you haven’t tried this entertaining style, these final days of summer are an ideal time to experiment. It’s quick and easy for the host, and your guests will love every bite.
Savory Charcuterie Board
1 log chevre cheese, softened
1 wedge Humboldt Fog cheese, softened
1 wedge Irish cheddar cheese
1 wedge Roquefort or blue cheese
1 small round brie cheese, softened
Greek or kalamata olives
Red or green grapes, rinsed
Salted or smoked almonds
4 ounces Prosciutto di Parma
1 small bowl fig spread or mango salsa
One hour before serving, scatter the cheese selection on a large cutting board. Fill in spaces with clusters of dates, grapes, and almonds or other nuts. Lightly drape the prosciutto on the board, layering each slice to form an attractive pattern. Add assorted crackers, thin slices of baguette, and a small bowl of fig spread or mango salsa. Provide knives and cheese spreaders for each cheese selection, small forks for the olives and prosciutto, and a demitasse spoon for the fig spread. Cover the board with plastic wrap and set it aside until ready to serve.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings