Cheese, crackers, and sweet accoutrements provide a simple formula for hosting finesse. Hobnob gives you goods for setting up a beautiful cheese board—with a few surprises.
On a hot day in June, I ventured into NYC’s Specialty Food Show at the Javits on a mission to discover new and artisanal treats for entertaining at home. There was a surplus of goods at the scene, and I did my best to weed through them. The following picks are the ones that appealed to my eye and taste buds, and will be sure to tantalize guests’ palates—and sense of wonder.
From a pristine area of California comes the prettiest, tastiest goat cheese that completely lends itself to be put on display. Founder and Cheese Master Mary Keehn began making cheese in her young hippie days. After returning home after a stint with master cheesemakers of France, inspiration hit to create something new: a goat cheese accented with a thick line of edible vegetable ash—and has become Cypress Grove’s signature. Humboldt Fog, named after the view, has expanded to include new flavors with sprinklings of dill, pepper, and lavender. See what you can do with this pretty mix, with some inspiration from the photo at the top of this post, which shows the mix of Cypress Grove’s cheeses. The Bermuda Triangle, 1.5 lb, $37.50. Humboldt Fog Mini, 1 lb wheel, $25; Humboldt Fog Pepper Remix, 3 lb wheel, $70; Humboldt Fog Grande, 5 lb wheel, $105. (sized for a big bash).
If you are looking to make an even bolder (and beautiful) cheese statement, order a stunning Celebration Cheese Cake to mark the occasion. Made of a stack of three wheels of soft-ripened goat cheese (1 lb Humboldt Fog, 3 lb Truffle Tremor, 5 lb Humboldt Fog) they can be decorated with flowers, herbs, and succulents, just like a real cake. See the cakes in action on their Facebook page for more embellishment ideas. $205. cypressgrovecheese.com
Now here’s a “salami” that even vegans can welcome. From Greece comes a new collection of fig salamis, each made with premium figs, enhanced by the flavors of Aleppo pepper, paprika, or cinnamon and dried fruits/nuts. These imposters make a perfect cheese companion to display. Made with no added sugars, and does not require refrigeration, so great for summer. I suggest doing a separate board labeled vegans-only, and another matching one with charcuterie, to keep things fun. Set of Three: Figs + Cinnamon + Pistachios; Figs + Aleppo Pepper + Orange Zest; Figs + Aleppo Pepper + Smoked Paprika. $30. hellenicfarms.com
In the spirit of slow baking, these crisps are inspired by Swedish crispbread (knäckebröd) of the 1500s—when large discs were baked during the harvest and left to preserve over the long winters. Each crispbread was made with a hole in the middle to hang on a pole above a fire, resulting in a crisp, wholesome bread with the texture of a cracker. The founders of Peter’s Yard, Ian and Wendy had quit their corporate jobs in search of something more real. In researching bakers from Sweden, they came across Peter Ljungqvist, a baker devoted to the old ways, and convinced him to share his recipe with the world—hence the name. Following the original Swedish recipe, these crispbreads are made with organic Shipton Mill flour, organic fresh milk and a sourdough starter that ferments for 16 hours before each batch is made.
Hobnob recommends a box or two of these to display on a cheese board, in the different shapes. Or peruse the website to see more creative serving ideas perfect for entertaining, like Crispbreads with Roasted Aubergine Pâté + Feta, or Beetroot and Walnut Dip, to name a couple. Peter’s Yard can be found at Whole Foods, Bedford Cheese Shop, or online at igourmet.com $4.99. petersyard.com
Fruit and cheese make a perfect match, and these small-batch Preserves for Cheese offer up a mix of complex flavors that are extremely complementary. As a matter of fact, Blackberry Patch worked with their neighbor Sweet Grass Dairy to craft the perfect flavor pairings. Depending on which cheese you would like to serve, consider these matches:
For hard cheeses like Manchego, or Sweet Grass Dairy’s Thomasville Tomme:
—Blueberry Lemon Thyme: made with fresh blueberries, thyme, lemon and cane sugar
For soft cheeses like brie, Sweet Grass Dairy’s Green Hill:
—Peach Bourbon Cardamom: made with fresh peaches, bourbon, cardamom, lemon and cane sugar
—Satsuma Cane Vanilla: made with ripe satsumas, an heirloom citrus variety, and simmered with vanilla and cane sugar. Satsuma preserves have a more balanced sweetness, as compared to the traditional bitter-like English orange marmalade.
For a hard cheese, like cheddar
—Satsuma Pepper: takes ripe satsumas and mixes with a bit of pepper.
For soft cheeses like goat cheese or cream cheese:
—Peach Pepper Fresh: made with peaches, lemon and cane sugar
—Raspberry Pepper: made with fresh raspberries, lemon and cane sugar simmer
—Strawberry Fig Fresh: made with strawberries, figs, lemon and cane sugar
Set out the preserves with small spoons for serving, for a sweet addition to your board. The company also offers a package with both cheese and preserves in two perfectly paired profiles: Blueberry Lemon Thyme + Thomasville Tomme; and the Peach Bourbon Cardamom + Green Hill. $48. Preserves only, $6.99 each. Free shipping over $50. blackberrypatch.com
I definitely noticed a trend with mushrooms in my trek of the Specialty Food Show, much to my delight. Now mushrooms can also be jerky, a welcome addition to those who don’t eat meat (or even those who do). These snacks are made with portabella mushrooms, first marinated before being dried to jerky perfection. They make a flavorful, chewy treat. Simply delicious. Try the three flavors: Sesame, Ginger & Korean Chili; Roasted Garlic & Black Pepper; Sweet Balsamic & Golden Fig. You might not believe it but there’s over half pound of mushrooms in every bag prior to dehydration, so you are getting a lot of flavor in every bite. $4.99 for 2 oz bag. savorywild.com
This bakery, which started on the streets of Marin County, and became a local favorite, has spread the love of their fantastic goodies. Owners Carol LeValley and Josh Harris started their careers in the fashion world, and applied their knack for business to the baking world. Using only the best grains and seeds, their artisan breads are loved for their beauty and style and especially because they are low in fat and full of nutrients.
Everything is baked by hand, so the crackers take on an artisanal appeal, that you eat with your eyes first. I thought the Apricot Pistachio & Brandy crisps looked exceptionally pleasing, and their thin crunchy base can work with a number of cheese varieties: goat cheese and blue cheese for starters. You can buy their crackers online at Murrays Cheese or in Whole Food stores. rusticbakery.com
The Fine Cheese Co
The Fine Cheese Co only chooses to work with the best small producers that use traditional methods, often specializing in a single cheese with the milk from their own herd. They set the standards for each variety with the cheese makers, then collect the specimens from the farms to mature them at their HQ in Bath, UK. Their collection features lovingly-made cheeses from Britain, Ireland, France, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Holland.
The variety of shapes and tastes will score points on creative cheese board assembly. Some brands featured adorable packaging and messaging that make the perfect gift to bring to a party or to offer as a hostess gift. I also like the fact that many of the cheese come as entire wheels, which always has an appealing look, especially when the rind is another color, or dressed in leaves or herbs. There are so many nice flavors to choose from, you’ll just have to have more than one gathering to try them all. Available at Whole Foods and better cheese stores. finecheese.co.uk
Healing Home Foods
For those who need to be gluten-free, these crackers are also raw and vegan, and mighty delicious. They’re made by mixing ingredients and slowly removing the moisture over time at very low temperatures to create a cracker-like effect. To help with the digestion of raw products they also soak and sprout the nuts and seeds, which also helps optimize their nutritional value.
Choose from their inventive varieties: Almond Berry, a hearty flax-seed-based cracker adds carrots, and lots of organic cranberries and goji berries. Fresh Herb starts with almond flour and flavors with rosemary and thyme. Carrot ‘n Seeds, is lightly sweet from the carrots, herbs contribute a savory note. Kale Goji is made with fresh kale, basil, rosemary, and goji berries. Pizza takes almond and oat flours plus ground flax and mixes in sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, basil, and oregano, apples, raw honey, and beets with a touch of Himalayan sea salt. $7. for 3.5 oz bag. healinghomefoods.com
These Shrooms can’t get you high, but they still make for an unusually enjoyable bite. The texture is crunchy, crispy, not chewy like the jerky, and has all the flavor you look for in a mushroom, plus some extra flavorings. Original, BBQ, Pizza, Sea Salt and Jalapeño really make for a tasty and not-run-of-the-mill snack.
Owner David Eberwein has a mushroom farm and wanted to offer his nutritious bounty for people to enjoy without having to fuss, so they kept experimenting. They eventually stumbled upon a way to turn fresh mushrooms into a shelf-stable crunchy snack chip, keeping the fresh, sliced mushroom intact. The process is patent pending. Available in NYC mid-September 2018. itsamushroom.com
Savannah Bee Co
I saw something really fun at the show—a display of raw acacia honeycomb acting as a centerpiece of a cheese board, oozing with its sweet deliciousness. Acacia honey is one of the most sought after honey varieties in the world, with a taste that’s light and sweet with subtle hints of vanilla. I think this makes a spectacular pairing on the cheese board, but can also be served alongside an artisanal butter to go with some warm bread for breakfast. The beeswax comb is edible with the extras of vitamin A and some roughage. $19.70 for 12.3 oz. Kosher.
Another item that caught my eye (and taste buds) was the Whipped Honey. Whipped honey is crystallized honey that’s spun until it’s creamy, smooth, and spreadable, more like a paste as opposed to a syrupy drizzle. This can be slathered on top of toast/cheese to take it to the next level. $16.55 for 12 oz. savannahbee.com
Here’s a great crisp that can work well on a cheese board or set out with dips—lesley stowe raincoast cheese crisps™ have the cheese baked right in, adding a sensational savory twist. They come in a duo of flavors, one with a hit of aged cheddar and harissa, and the other infused with parmesan and chive. Both provide a thin, crispy bite that can be enjoyed on their own.
They are the brainchild of Lesley Stowe, a Parisian-trained chef who opened her Vancouver-based fine foods store when frustrated by the lack of specialty foods in her area. Her store, Lesley Stowe Fine Foods, was stocked with a range of world class cheeses, breads, homemade dinners and desserts plus hard-to-find grocery items. In NYC, we don’t have that problem, so you can find these fantastic crisps at Westside Market, Whole Foods and Bedford Cheese. lesleystowe.com