Thursday, February 28, 2013

Family Friendly Cheese Board

So, maybe you're looking at the title of this post and thinking how stuffy a cheese board sounds. And I agree with that sentiment. There's just something that feels very pretentious about the term. We should really call it something else, am I right?

But it doesn't have to be stuffy, in fact I think it makes a great casual supper. Everyone just snacks on this and that it until tummies are full. It can be a delightful way to sample new cheeses and pair them with fun combinations. It can also serve as a fun, no-pressure way to get "picky" eaters to try something new.

You know that scene from Ratatouille where Remy is talking to his brother about the endless possibilities of flavor combinations? It's like that.

Here's how I do it:

The first trick to a family-friendly spread is to pick cheeses that your little ones can have. Be sure they are made of pasteurized milk. If your kids are new to sampling cheeses, keep it simple. Pick one soft or semi-soft cheese, and one firm, aged cheese. We chose semi-soft Port Salut and aged Black Pepper Toscano. Neither of them were too pungent.

Depending on where you come down on feeding your kiddos cured meats, salame might not be your first choice. I'm still not sure where I come down on the issue, so we didn't give any to our son. Pepperoni might be a fun option for the younger set -- just grab a pre-sliced bag and stash what you don't use in the fridge for pizza night. Want to go meatless? Sub in some briny olives for some tender, salty, savory flavor. Plus, kids can slip them onto their fingers, which always made a meal more fun when I was a kid.

Cheese boards are generally paired with wines, but even the adults in our family do not drink alcohol, so we subbed in a couple of bottles of crisp, sparkling water. This means that the whole family can join in the fun! If your kids don't like sparkling water on its own, try a sparkling fruit juice drink, like Izze. Or give DRY sodas a try -- they're meant to pair with food, like wines, but without the alcohol element. (Both of these are available in my local Kroger-owned grocery store in the natural foods section. Also, I'm not being compensated in any way for mentioning them here. I just like them.)

Gotta have some fruit -- extra nutrients, a juicy complement to crackers and cheese. Berries or grapes work well. Melon is another great option.

Something crunchy is a must as well. I have a gigantic crush on these Marcona Almonds with Rosemary from Trader Joes. I cannot get enough!

I like to make sure most of the different textures of food are represented: smooth, creamy, crunchy, crispy, juicy, bubbly. And a nice range of tastes as well: salty, savory, sweet, tart. Finish with a little something sweet, like dark chocolate covered cherries or sea salt caramels.

Use whatever you like best. Pick out something you've always wanted to try! Invite some friends over or pack it up and take it on your next picnic -- indoor or out!

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