When the sun is shining, people naturally want to socialise and gather with friends and family. As we are now all so time-poor, sometimes the thought of a crowd coming over is enough to make you want to run for the hills! I'm a great one for having big plans and then suddenly putting it all in to the too hard basket. But, when we have friends over, I always have a fantastic time, and promise myself to do it more often - friends uplift and energise me, and it's so good for the soul.
Easy entertaining is were it's at. I do make an effort - I like everyone to feel welcomed and comfortable, the house in some kind of presentable state, some flowers, candles, fairy lights, good music, and plenty of offerings in the way of food and drinks. Platters are my life saver. They can be a starter, finisher, or, even the whole main event.
The great thing about them, is that it's entirely over to you as to what you want on your platter and how it looks. I have to admit, I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to cheeseboards and charcuterie (things always sound better in French - charcuterie, pronounced shar-coot-tree or shar-coo-tuh-ree for the English/French pronounciation, sounds so much better than "meat platter") and like to keep them separate - mainly because we have friends and family who are vegetarian and vegan and I hate the idea of them having to sift through the meat and dairy products. If a vegan/plant based friend is coming over I will make sure we have a platter made up of nuts, fruit, veges and plant based dip - most people love hummus and pesto, and a purely plant based platter always looks stunning.
Here's a few ideas to get you started - mix them up, change them around and make it suit you!
Although today a charcuterie board often includes cheeses, a typical French charcutier would be meat only - cured, salami, bacon, sausages, terrines, pates, mousse, rillettes (a coarser type of pate) and proscuito.
- As with any platter, varied colour, texture and height will make it look scrumptious - we eat with our eyes first!
- You can use any meat - I often include cold roast chicken or slices of beef but make sure you have at least 3 different kinds - eg: Salami, chicken, beef
- Add a soft element - a dish of pate or mousse
- Add something pickled - gherkins, onions, olives, pickled vegetables
- Add a sweet element like a peach, apricot or cherry chutney
- Add a savoury element like a wholegrain or Dijon mustard
- Add bread or crackers
I love cheeseboards because they provide the opportunity to be as creative as you like - and really, anything goes - it just comes down to personal preference.
A couple of tips:
- Aim for at 3 types of cheese - blue, hard (like cheddar) and a creamy (such as brie, camembert). Alternatively, I sometimes just provide one type (if I know the preferences of my guests) such as a blue or brie. However, if you do this, then make sure you go big - and I'm talking full round (not the small rounds from the supermarket, but the wheels from a deli). Generosity is paramount when entertaining.
- Make sure your cheese is at room temperature
- Fill the board/plate. This is where you get creative! Nuts, dips, veges, fruit, crackers, bread sticks, olives, pickles, dried fruit, spreads.
- Honey goes so well on cheeseboards - especially with a strong flavoured blue - the honey will soften the strength. I sometimes have a little jar of honey or wedge of honeycomb on the board, or I drizzle over a wedge minutes before guests arrive
Pairings made in Heaven:
Cheddar - apple, pear slices, cured meats, crackers, spicy nuts, quince, chutneys
Brie and Camembert - pears, apples, grapes, cherries, chutneys, pesto
Blue - candied walnuts, almonds, honey, fig, pears, nuts
Once the platters are made and guests arrive - just relax, admire and enjoy your efforts!