Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Hosting a cocktail party? Don't bother yourself with puff pastry hors d'oeuvres and fussy mushroom caps - Just blow your budget on an amazing mountain of cheese, meat and related accoutrements. It might not be cheap, but it's high-impact and incredibly easy. Presentation can be loose, allowing you to enjoy your own party. As elements dwindle, refill from your pre-sliced meats and add more crackers. A happy accident? Cheese looks better and better as your guests carve into it.

Pear Chutney
Dice up 4 firmish pears. (Make sure they're not too soft, or they will completely fall apart.) Add a cinnamon stick, two tablespoons of brown sugar, 1/4 cup water to a small saucepan, bring to a boil and let simmer for 12-15 minutes until soft, slightly thickened and flavours have blended. Level of Difficulty: 1.

(This would go well over ice cream or served alongside a pork roast, too.)

Photo: Me
Food Styling and Recipe: Ashley Denton
Props supplied by: Rustica Tabletop

Tara O'Brady (friend and Food Guru, known for her site Seven Spoons) had this to say when poked for her cheese/charcuterie board must-haves:

"Gherkins or cornichons - really zingy, vinegary ones. They need to stand up to the richness of the other nibbles. Pickled onions, teeny beets and jardiniere have their place too. Roasted nuts, a few filberts, walnuts or almonds. Pistachios make the cut, not so much pecans.

Figs (both fresh and semi-dried) are lush and kind of sexy, plus pair beautifully with a variety of cheeses and meats, especially Parma ham. Other favourite meats? Pingue's bresaola and prosciutto, 'ndjua (a soft, spreadable salami). The best boards have an unexpected star - an interesting find or a showstopper - a pastry-crusted terrine, a homemade chicken liver parfait with fried sage leaves, maybe. Doesn't have to be extravagant, but the extra touch is nice.

Red grapes over green, I don't know why.

Mustard! Kozlik's Triple Crunch is the sort of go-to mustard with charcuterie, but if the offerings are sort of Ploughman-lunch-inspired (think aged cheddar, a bit of ham, some pickles) I really like Kozlik's German or good old English. (JASON'S NOTE: Kozlik's Mustard is Canadian and incredible. And available online. Go ahead, place an order.)

Something sweet is nice, a relish or accompaniment. As simple as a drizzle of honey with gorgonzola, or a little dish of currant chutney to top crackers.

When it comes to cheese, mix up milks, ages, and styles. Some favourites? Upper Canada Cheese Comfort Cream and Niagara Gold. If you're leaning Italian with meats, Burrata torn and dressed with a rustic salsa verde is pretty great."

What does your cheese board include? Any secrets for success?

I've got some serious plans for my next cocktail party. Inspired by one of Toronto's greatest restaurants, The Harbord Room, I'll swipe their brilliant "Fried Egg", which is actually a poached egg, coated in panko and deep-fried. The heat and crunch is a terrific counter to sweet cheeses, and served atop a fresh baguette, the richness can't be beat. First I'll need a lesson from Chef Cory Vitiello. Nudge, nudge.

It's Fonduemental (February 6, 2008)
On Aging and Cheese (November 13, 2009)
Cheese and Crackwhores (August 7, 2010)
On Hosting (January 24, 2012)


  1. It's a little cruel to post this so early in the day. How does this fare as a mid-morning snack?

  2. Good god, I love a handwriting font over an amazing photo of food. I kind of want to frame that to hang in my kitchen...

    And you really do make entertaining seem easy. I appreciate the tips!

  3. Nice work by you and Mr. Denton! I want this for my lunch.

    And oh! Forgot the bestest trick of all to success - chat up your cheesemonger. Ask for help and recommendations; if you know your tastes tell them for direction, but make use of their expertise. Interest and enthusiasm are good qualities in a customer. They're pros for a reason.

    PS one day, soon, we shall fry a poached egg. Mark my words. xo

  4. Oh, goodness...this is too beautiful. The photography is sharper than the cheese... Cheese glorious cheese.
    Great for the Thursday night hosting that we've been doing! Benton Bros Cambie Street, look out here I come...

  5. Please send everything in this picture as quickly as possible. Talk about jealous rage!

  6. Hi, I'm Laura, I'm a cheese addict.

    Now that's out of the way....

    The BEST thing I've ever had on a cheese board was in Spain. This is what you do:

    Get some good hard cheese like Manchego. Drizzle with honey. Then sprinkle with ground coffee.

    Sounds so weird, tastes AMAZING.

  7. like another commenter said - spanish cheese boards are perfection, and i tend to blend mine with italian cheeses and meats. i love a good serrano, bresaola, and chorizo on mine, and of course parmigiano-reggino! the rough texture of parmigiano-reggino against fresh pears, or pear chutney, is to die for.