Planning a party? Easy cheesy entertaining tips

 
 
by Deena Siegelbaum
Want to mix up your cheese board at your next party?  Here are a few tried-and-true tricks for a crowd-pleasing spread.  Like the looks of what we’ve created here?  This snacky board is sure to get you through the Final Four or impress your next dinner guests.

Pick a theme: The board pictured here is…you guessed it, Italian.  We began with our new fave salamis and speck from Olli Salumeria, then picked Italian or Italian-style faves to complete the mix.  Theme by country…like the classic Spanish manchego, quince paste and Marcona almond combo; stinky (and fabulous) French cheeses and fresh baguettes; or artisan picks from the good ol’ USA with fresh fruit or veggies from the farmers market.  Whatever you choose, make sure to include a variety of styles (hard and soft cheeses) and different milk types (cow, goat, sheep).   

Think of crowd-pleasing favorites, then raise the bar:  Help your friends try new cheeses they’re guaranteed to love.  Most people stick to old faithfuls like Parmigiano and Cheddar.  Try alternatives to Parm like Piave or Stravecchio, or a superbly savory Cheddar like Bleu Mont Bandaged or Mrs. Quicke’s.  Don’t play it too safe, though – mix in some new finds!  Goat cheese and blue cheese are two types people think they don’t like – but I’ve found that starting with approachable cheeses like Aged Goat Gouda or creamy Black River Blue, you may just win them over.  

Mix in the meat: My most recent dinner guests are still talking about the cheese and bresaola board I laid out a few weeks ago – it was so ample, we followed it with a very light dinner.  The center of my wood board was piled high with bresaola and surrounded by various hard and soft cheeses, plus my favorite Marcona almonds and Spanish figs.  On another board I had fresh bread and a small bowl of olive oil for dipping.  We tried multiple pairings and all worked!   

Throw in unexpected accompaniments:  Honeys and chutneys, preserved walnuts, and pickled figs are known to get squeals at cocktail parties.  Mustard goes great with salami, of course – my new favorite is My Friend’s Brown Ale Mustard (made by a cool chick in Brooklyn).  Speck is traditionally served with creamy cheeses, pickled and bread that’s been lightly toasted.  Play around – put it on bruschetta for your guests, or in a bread salad.     

Portion “control”:  Figure 1-2 ounces per person per item.  Having 6 people over?  Aim for 1/3-1/2 LB. of each cheese, meat and condiment, plus ample crackers or bread.

A Tale of Two Piggies: The Heritage Difference

by Louise Geller

If like me, you grew up finding pork largely unimpressive, it’s time to take a second look at what it was meant to be. In the US, the pork industry has spent years taking one of the most naturally delicious animals in the world and breeding the flavor right out of it. The vast majority of pork on the US market is bred for leanness and consistency, and as such as become dull, boring and predictable. Where’s the flavor? I’ve always struggled to understand why “the other white meat” would be a good thing. Heritage breeds like Mangalitsa and Berkshire will take your love of pork to the next level – and show you that this meat is in a class of its own.

Mangalitsa
Originally bred to be eaten only by Hungarian royalty, Mangalitsa still maintains a flavor that will make you feel like a king. If you’ve ever had Hungarian salami, you know Mangalitsa: smoky and rich, substantial in flavor and in texture. More and more, these fine pigs are being bred domestically. The meat is far too dark to ever be called “white meat,” and marbled beautifully. Don’t be turned off by the presence of a large amount of fat – these pigs are known for their fat and in many places raised especially for it. Mangalitsa lard is high in monounsaturated fat and oleic acid, making it lighter, cleaner, and yes, healthier. (Mind you, we’re not labeling lard a health food, but if you’re going to eat it – and let’s face it, you’re going to – it’s definitely the healthier option)

The Mangalitsa breed was saved from extinction in the latter half of the 20th century through the work of a group of Eastern European farmers who revived the breed from 200 surviving purebreds. Today they are becoming more and more widely available, though due to their substantial requirements for food and space it is still a skilled farmer who decides to raise a herd of Mangalitsas. Lucky for us, Mosefund farm in New Jersey is doing just that, and you can get a taste the heritage difference with their fantastic bacon.

Berkshire
Perhaps the most well-known of the heritage breeds, Berkshire pigs originated in Britain where, you guessed it, they were first bred to be consumed by the royal family. They have been bred now for over 300 years, and with good reason – Berkshire meat is sweet, rich and incredibly juicy.

Berkshires were first brought to the USA in 1823 and were initially assimilated into the general pork population – luckily they were rescued from a future of mediocrity in 1875 when a group of breeders who recognized the importance of keeping the breed pure established the American Berkshire Association. Look for the “100% Pure Berkshire Pork” label – this means the producer is a member of the association. Olli Salumeria combines Mangalitsa and Berkshire pork to make their phenomenal salami.

These are just a few of the awesome heritage breeds on the market in the US today – and it is well worth the effort to seek them out for all your pork consumption needs. You’ll never look back!

Sauce Vierge a la Murray’s from Veritas Restaurant

Veritas means truth, and nothing could be more true than saying we love working with Veritas Restaurant in NYC.  And it just so happens that Chef Sam Hazen Veritas loves Chiarentana’s Leccino extra virgin olive oil. Here Chef Hazen shares his recipe for sauce vierge,  perfect to drizzle over grilled meat or fish or use as a bread dipping sauce.  We whipped this up to give it a try a few days ago over some chicken — which we photographed first of course.  The results were palate-pleasing —  try this at home and tell us what you think!

Sauce Vierge a la Murray’s

1/2 qt. Chiarentana Leccino

6 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 cup fine lemon zest (use a good microplane)

Place garlic and lemon in a bowl; pour olive oil over lemon and garlic, and let it infuse for 24 hours.  Then remove the garlic cloves. 

To 1 oz. sauce vierge infused base, add the following:

1/2 Tbs. tomato, concasse (diced)

1/2 tsp. basil, chiffonade

1/2 tsp. tarragon leaves, torn

1/8 tsp. toasted coriander seed, crushed

1/2 tsp. aged balsamic vinegar

1/8 tsp. fresh ground pepper

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

Mix as needed.  Use as a bread dipping sauce or drizzle over grilled fish or chicken.

This March we’re mad for…Oma

By Liz Thorpe

In the summer of 2009 I finally found Waitsfield, Vermont and the meandering driveway that led to the Von Trapp dairy farm. That was after the GPS sent me down a logging trail, a bee got stuck in my tank top, stung me, and I nearly hit a tree. Few cheeses are worth that kind of drama, but I was delighted to find (and still am) that Sebastian and Dan’s cheese, Oma, is one. Although they make only two batches of cheese every other week from the thick, golden, unpasteurized milk of the family’s predominantly Jersey cow herd, we’re lucky enough to sell it at Murray’s.

It’s a brilliant collaboration, the effort of two third generation dairy farmers to improve upon their parents’ organic model by making a singular cheese that is aged at the Cellars at Jasper Hill. When you hear about seasonal cheese it immedaitely seems fleeting–rare, precious, and necessary to taste NOW. But all cheeses, even those like Oma that are made year-round, have moments where you can feel and taste the unique conditions of their making. And right now this cheese is exceptional.

Why? Because Von Trapp cows are processing a late winter diet of organic hay studded with fat clover buds and all that fodder (and not much walking through snowy hills) is giving an especially thick, rich, fat-and-protein laden milk. To ensure that the wheels this March are the absolute best I dragged a group of devout cheese proselytizers from the Murray’s ranks into our classroom to blind taste 6 different batches of Oma.

Breaking through the nectarine-colored crust of each wheel, we found interior pastes ranging from custardy to springy, and a windfall of flavors reminiscent of eggy French Reblochon to decidedly bacony quiche. All 6 were lovely, but we chose those with a stickier, more elastic texture and balanced, savory. No bitter bite that can happen with this style.

It’s hard work, but someone has to do it, and we want you to get the best.

PS: Yes, they’re the same family as the singing Von Trapps but the focus these days is on the music of milk.