About a month ago I was asked to go sailing with my best friend, an extremely talented Pastry Chef friend, Kim. Kim asked me to join her on the sailboat of a French chocolatier she does business with. It was a bit last minute, but I knew I wanted to throw something together to entertain. Last minute entertaining doesn’t mean that you can’t pull off something impressive. I keep most items on hand, such as dried fruits and nuts. I pick up fresh fruits, fresh bread, and hand select cheeses from local cheese shops. My favorite spots in NYC are Murray’s Cheeses, the cheese counter at Fairway, and the selection at Beecher’s Cheeses.
A cheese board is the simplest way to entertain. It’s nearly effortless, and just requires some simple planning. If you are unfamiliar with cheeses, always ask your local cheese monger for some tips or recommendations. They are always happy to share their knowledge and have the best insight into what is at its peak.
4-6 Cheeses, preferably
I prefer to have a combination of soft, hard, and semi-hard cheeses. Always a goat cheese, cheddar, a ,washed rind type cheese, such as a Camembert, and a blue.
Perhaps my favorite cheese ever is Winnimere from the Cellars at Jasper Hill in northern Vermont. Winnimere has a pudding-like filling encased in a layer of spruce bark, and can be purchased at Murray’s Cheeses.
1-2 types fresh fruit
Fresh fruit makes a cheese board. Crisp, tart apples and juicy, sweet grapes make a perfect compliment to cut through rich cheeses.
1-2 types dried fruit
Dried fruit adds a wonderful texture and sweetness to a cheese board. I like to go to the bulk section of the grocery and pick out 2-4 ounces of dried figs, dried pears, and dried apricots.
1-2 types of nuts
I always keep nuts on hand. I store pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts in the freezer. They last longer and I pull only what I need. Be sure to toast any nuts before putting them on a cheese board. That toasted, nutty flavor will pair well with any cheese.
2-4 types of breads/crackers
A fresh, crunchy french baguette is a must. I also like seeded breads and whole grain. Having several types of crackers gives options for different cheeses as well. I like long, thin flat-bread crackers and John Wm. Macy’s Cheese Sticks.
1-2 types of jams, jellies, honey
A jam or jelly of sorts is a great addition to a cheese board. Floral honey and honeycomb also compliment the board well. I love local jams and today, I used a Blackberry jam from a little Jelly Stand in Provincetown, Mass.
If the party warrants it, it is always a lovely to serve a special beverage. A specialty cocktail is not only impressive, but a very fun way to start the festivities. I love to start a party with a sparkling beverage or aperitif, to whet the palette and open your appetite. One of the simplest, and most delicious combination is champagne or sparkling wine topped with elderflower liquor. St. Germain is an elderflower liquor, it pairs beautifully with sparkling wine or mixed into cocktails. Any sort of sparkling wine will work for this cocktail; Cava, Prosecco, or Champagne. You don’t have to buy anything pricey but stay away from the really cheap stuff, it’s filled with sugars and additives and will give you a headache. Just a few raspberries to pop in for a hint of color and something to nosh on at the bottom of the glass.
The Humming Bird
6 oz of Champagne
2 oz of St. Germain
- Place 2 raspberries in a glass, pour champagne, top with St. Germain
Typically a sparkling beverage is served in a flute or tulip glass. I don’t believe this always has to be the case, it certainly depends on the crowd. Having champagne flutes on a sailboat isn’t ideal. I have these little blue tumblers I got in Provincetown at an Army-Navy store, 2 for $1. I love the look of them, and they are so inexpensive that I not afraid to bring them along with me for entertaining.
I always have basic white cocktail napkins on hand, but I also recently started to keeping fun patterned and typography napkins as well. Bring something fun that matches the mood of the event.
I love lightweight disposable bamboo plates in fun shapes. I found these rectangles plates at JB Prince, which is my Chef secret. They have EVERYTHING you ever need to entertain properly or cook like a 5 Star Chef.
Cheese forks, knives
Keep a variety of cheese knives on hand. Harder cheeses require a sharper knife or pick, and softer cheeses need a spreader. Crate and Barrel and Sur la Table have awesome options for cheese knives.
Slate, wood, and porcelain make excellent cheese boards. Thick cut wood from J.K Adams or a beautiful platter from Revol make perfect cheese board options.
Paring Knife, Bread Knife, Wine Key, Offset Spatula
Remember to bring items to make it happen. A paring knife, bread knife, wine key, and small offset spatula will be needed to make it all happen. Make sure you have a small cutting board to work with as well. Ziplock bags and paper towels to clean up and wrap left over cheese in.
With a small amount of planning, and a bit of time, you can pull off an impressive spread. This combo can be used for small gatherings or for a housewarming party. Remember to always add your own flair when entertaining, make it memorable and plan ahead so you can enjoy the party yourself.
Chef Sean Patrick Gallagher