It’s not often that you see something more irresistible or photogenic on a cocktail buffet (well, back when there were actual parties). There’s something about a carefully curated and overflowing board or slab loaded with tempting flavors and colors that reflect a European flair that other appetizer platters just can’t compete against. For those who consider following creators of these increasingly popular displays of entertainment, there’s no shortage of ways to be inspired by food offerings as an art form… but in an approachable way. If you’re facing a weekend (or a winter sports season) where big plates of wings and chips are likely to be front and center, learning how to craft an option that’s easier on the eyes, not to mention the stomach just might be the way to elevate your mood as well as your table.
For those of you seeking not just lovely photos posted online but more detail and instruction when it’s time to tackle your ‘brilliant foodie project,’ look no further than Courtney LaCourte and the magic she plates daily at The Cheese Gal inside The Fairlane Hotel. Yes, you can order any size of pre-selected menu items from her shop (always perfect), and it’s something I’ve done more than a few times. But, with her expanding fan base, she’s becoming more inclusive and allowing those of us less gifted to learn straight from the master. You can look at a continually growing number of instructional videos on her social network channels for tutorials on almost everything she makes, arranging, or serving. The videos are simple, friendly, and always include tidbits of helpful intel that you would never come up with solo. In addition to the slew of recipes and set-up clips to draw from, Courtney is also quite the collaborator, recently adding more options for us to learn from – in fresh, fun ways that turn the would-be task into a cultural journey of learning and savoring the moment. Being this inclusive isn’t the norm for most professionals outside of major network food programming. Courtney turns a chore into a celebration, and as I found out recently, one that’s incredibly fun to share in the company of others equally pumped about upping their appetizer game.
Behind the Board — Thoughts and Tips Straight from The Cheese Gal
Even seasoned entertainers (myself included) can learn new things from Courtney or be reminded of little tricks to make the process easier and prettier. Here are a few highlights of things I took down for future reference:
- Your board doesn’t have to be a board at all. Use a lovely casserole dish, do individual jars, use a rough piece of marble or granite, a wooden or paper box- even a baking sheet!
- Slip-on some thin, disposable plastic gloves when cutting meats or oily cheeses if you don’t want to carry the greasy feeling on your hands. Put things like olives, capers, or little pickles into little bowls to keep them from leaking onto other items.
- Cut cheese when cold (way easier) but let it sit out for a while to get to room temperature. Like wine, it needs to breathe to release the flavors. Also, cut into solid pieces to invite others to do the same. Never put a whole wedge out; people avoid those!
- Always layer! Start with your little bowls or jars (honey, jam, mustards, etc.), then cheese and meats followed by crackers, fruits, nuts, and other complimenting add-ins.
- For final touches, place or scatter halved colorful fruits (strawberries, figs) to make the whole thing ‘pop.’
- Pick up cheese bags or cheese paper for storage. Don’t just toss all into one container or bag with quality cheeses- keep the flavors apart to preserve.
I was lucky enough to join Courtney and Cassie Kelly along with my niece, Summer, as she hosted the first ‘virtual’ class, and I was instantly hooked on the process. In her quaint downtown shop, we nibbled on imported meat selections sent from Carnivore Club while sipping varietals of red wine perfection from Chappellet (both Carnivore Club– an outstanding mail service for things you won’t likely see at the local market like truffled salumi and Chappellet were collaborating partners on this class). We got a shopping list in advance to pick up cheeses and fruit, nuts, etc., and got ready to fill our board, Cheese Gal style. I just saw where she’s doing another collaboration pairing types of artisanal honey with cheese varieties. That’s an option for those of you that shy away from charcuterie or meat in general.
It could be a fun girls’ night with friends, daughters, sisters, co-workers, your spouse (?) —whoever! All you need is her clear but short shop list, guidance, and a bit of curiosity. From how to correctly layer any inclusion so that mess is minimal, and liquids don’t muddle to final touches that pop with color and texture, she shows you and yours precisely what to do, step by step. The best part aside from her sparkling sentiments is that you can basically snack as you go- sampling is essential for pros, right? Grab a glass and a board, reach out to Courtney’s team (it’s all in the family – her mom is her right hand at the shop), and get ready to have the best wine and cheese experience imaginable. It’s casual, fun, and can happen anywhere, anytime. Genius!