In summer, I want entertaining to be as simple and streamlined as possible, since the last thing I want to do is waste a beautiful afternoon slaving over a hot oven. I've found that inviting friends over and serving a huge, impressive cheeseboard, is actually an ideal way to set the tone for a casual summer evening with friends. When I created this cheeseboard earlier this month, I placed it in the middle of my kitchen, rather than outside or in our formal dining room. It didn't take long for everyone to gather around it, as G mixed drinks and I threw together a simple salad for dinner. As the host, I was able to enjoy myself without feeling isolated from the party; as guests, my friends were able to make themselves at home, while casually snacking (because who doesn't love a cheeseboard?). Here are my tips for putting together a cheeseboard during warmer months:
1. Include produce you wouldn't normally buy at the farmers' market.
Summer is the perfect time to experiment with produce, particularly with fruits and vegetables you've never seen before or wouldn't normally purchase. But while I usually try to purchase one thing a week I don't recognize, it can sometimes feel intimidating to cook something new. Cheeseboards are a stress-free way to experiment with new fruits, since you can simply serve them raw (I was recently inspired by a friend's set-up that included tomatillos and sliced raw kohlrabi). Best case scenario, you discover a new fruit you love; worst case scenario, it serves as a conversation-starter—chances are one of your guests will recognize it. For this board I added in some golden raspberries and sliced kumquats. They may feel random at first, but serve as a beautiful finishing touch and add a nice dimension to the board.
2. Fill the board to the point of over-flowing.
Creating a full cheeseboard requires a little extra work, but it's so worthwhile in the end. Even if you're only hosting a few friends, set out a wide variety of options so that the board looks bountiful and overflowing, and place additional bowls of nuts and crackers at multiple points in the board, so everyone isn't reaching towards one end of the board. I actually aim to buy enough that I have leftovers, since sliced cheese and almonds are one of my favorite grab-and-go snacks to have on hand.
3. Serve spiced nuts with a flavor that mimics another item on the board.
A simple way to tie-together a cheeseboard is to include nuts that mirror another flavor on the board. For example, if you have a truffled cheese, consider including black truffle nuts. Here, I opted for rosemary crackers for a summery-feeling herb, and added 'Blue Diamond Crafted Gourmet Almonds—Rosemary and Sea Salt' to complement the flavor. The almonds, with the skins removed and a perfect crunch with a touch of seasoning, were a hit—we had to refill the bowl more than once!
4. Include edible flowers.
Because I prefer to use neutral bowls in creating a cheeseboard, an easy way to dress up the board is by adding in some edible flowers. Here, I added chamomile blooms to the almonds, and dressed up the goat cheese with marigold. What could have looked like a sad blob, instead served as a bright centerpiece of the board.
5. Use fresh fruits.
In the fall and winter, I always keep dried apricots and strawberries on hand for boards, but as these fruits become available at the farmers' market, I prefer to opt for the fresh versions, which helps the entire board feel more seasonal.
6. Include fresh, summery-feeling dips.
A simple spin on a traditional cheeseboard is to make it entirely protein and produce-based, with almonds, fresh crudité, and dips. While we went with the, ahem, carb-y option here, we kept the dips grounded in summery favorites, with a bruschetta spread (and crisps), and an herby hummus with paprika sprinkled on top.
7. Serve a summery drink to go with it.
You can never go wrong serving a light rosé or pinot grigio, but a cheeseboard somehow feels better when it's paired with a cocktail, my go-to this summer being a spritz (it didn't hurt that the vibrant orange color complemented the flowers on the board).