The perfect fall cheese board is well balanced, with sweet, savory, creamy, and crunchy elements. The cherry on top is a sweet and spicy pepper jelly.
I wish you could all come over tonight to help us dive into this bounty of cheese board love. This time of year, this is my favorite way to entertain. Fill a board with flavorful cheeses, colorful seasonal sides, and a couple good bottles of wine and turn a regular old chilly fall night into a faux-fancy dinner party.
In my mind, when I envision a dinner party at our house it looks something like dinner at Downton Abbey. Candles and sparkly wine glasses and feisty conversation. And maybe if I had Mrs. Patmore flinging flour around in a cavernous basement kitchen (not to mention friends who wore ball gowns to dinner), that’s the way it would be.
But in reality, our style of entertaining is usually focused on presenting a a beautiful cheese board to help keep things classy around here. And when we’re putting it together, we go for a combination of savory, sweet, crunchy, and creamy.
THE CHEESE BOARD FLAVOR PUZZLE
Savory is the heart of a cheese board. I love a few salty olives and pickled peppers to add color and easy nibbles between bites of cheese. Blue Cheese is a savory umami explosion that gives the board some variety. I could eat blue cheese every day and never get tired of it, but my husband is more easily sold on a crumbly, tangy cheese like gruyere or parmesan. It has these tiny, tangy salt crystals that sort of pop when you crunch them.
A bit of sweetness really helps to bring out the flavors of the cheese. I love to assemble the perfect bite with a cracker + cheese + dollop of honey. Grapes and pears or other fall fruit add a sweet, fresh bite too. As does a spoonful of sweet and spicy red pepper jelly, for which you have the recipe below. It adds a sweetness, but also a slight spicy kick to each bite and it pairs incredibly well with the saltiness of the cheeses.
Crackers are the crunch on almost all of our cheese boards. We usually go for crispy crackers with fresh ingredients like figs, apricots and all sorts of nuts.
For a bit of creaminess to top the crackers, we love a creamy cheese which gets delightfully soft at room temperature and a quarter pound of prosciutto sliced so super thin that you can see through it. I tell my grocery store’s butcher that to slice it as thin as possible and it becomes so creamy and tender that it nearly melts like butter when you bite into it.
Pile all those items on a board or platter or regular old dinner plate, and it’s sure to be a hit.
Step by Step Guide to Making Sweet and Spicy Pepper Jelly
- Wash the red bell peppers thoroughly. Remove the stems, seeds, and inner white ribs. Roughly chop the peppers into smaller pieces.
Pulse in Food Processor:
- Place the chopped bell peppers and red pepper flakes into a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is finely chopped but not pureed. Ensure that some texture remains.
Combine and Boil:
- In a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot, combine the finely chopped pepper mixture, white sugar, white wine vinegar, unsalted butter, and salt. Mix well.
Cook the Mixture:
- Place the pot over high heat and bring the mixture to a vigorous boil. Make sure to stir occasionally to prevent any sticking or burning at the bottom of the pot.
Reduce and Thicken:
- Let the mixture boil and reduce for about 20 minutes. The jelly will thicken as it cooks. Note that the longer you cook, the thicker the consistency. However, 20 minutes typically provides a good consistency for a jelly that can be easily spread but is not too runny.
Cool and Store:
- Once done, remove the pot from the heat. Allow the jelly to cool slightly. Then, pour it into clean, sterilized jars or containers, leaving a little space at the top for expansion if you’re freezing.
- Seal the containers with their respective lids. For immediate consumption or within a week, refrigerate. For longer storage, freeze the jelly. Remember to label the containers with the date and contents.
- This jelly pairs beautifully with cheese and crackers. It can also be served over cream cheese for a quick and tasty appetizer.
- If you prefer a thicker consistency, you can further reduce the jelly by boiling for an additional 5-10 minutes. Always remember that the jelly will continue to thicken as it cools.
Jessica Smith is a native of the American Midwest, currently living in Thailand where she writes about food and travel throughout Southeast Asia. Jessica believes that the best way to understand a place is through its local cuisine.