Last weekend my husband and I hosted a cocktail party at our home. I’m pretty easy going when it comes to planning an event and often go for the usual items that fill the food table. Fresh crunchy vegetables, sliced baguette, some sort of mixed salad, and of course the omnipresent truffle cheese from Trader Joe’s that everyone has tasted. For some reason, this event felt different and I took time to plan the menu so that it was a twist on our usual party food. Maybe it was because we haven’t hosted anything in a while or the fact that the guest list included a handful of new faces, either way I felt the need to challenge myself and so I set out to the grocery store to buy the haul. I’ve always admired the way Heirloom LA does their crostini platters, it’s like a garden of fruits, breads, cheeses, and nuts all intertwined so that no one area has the same thing to offer. The eyes can scan back and forth over the delectable spread, carefully selecting each gourmet bite. I used this as inspiration as I wandered down the aisles of the market, contemplating wedges of parmesan and little domes of goat cheese. The cart quickly filled with dried figs, cherry jam, tomatoes, cucumbers, brie, bleu, and feta. Forgetting the standard cheese board was like breaking free from the small bites confines and letting myself reinvent the spread. Picture a kid in a candy store only the mature version where the adult is at a cheese counter.
Back home, as my husband chilled the wine and prepped the backyard with music and lighting, I pulled out a big bamboo platter, lined it with wax paper, and began to create. As I rapidly unwrapped each block of cheese, sliced cucumbers into crisp bite-able rounds, and scooped honey and fig jam into little glass jars I began to realize that this party prep didn’t have the usual step-by-step feel, but rather offered a bit of freedom to create the most abundant cheese plate yet. I began by placing the glass jars of cherry, fig, and honey spreads, then laid a bed of rosemary for the brie and parmesan. Sliced meats were arranged in one corner, but were quickly overlapped with sliced dried fruits and a scattering of bite-size heirloom tomatoes. A big block of feta was dusted with pepper and scattered with a trail of cucumbers. A wedge of bleu sat in the corner surrounded by large green grapes and white nectarines while slices of mozzarella nestled in with small concord grapes. The platter began to fill and no sign of the wax paper below could be seen. Fresh strawberries were mounded over the lids of the glass jars as a final step, along with the addition of slender bamboo spoons into each little jar of sweet jams. Once finished I looked at the pile of wrappers left behind and the delectable platter that was created in front of me and felt pretty proud. The cheese board was nowhere to be found in this abundance of savories and sweets. It became an eye-catching centerpiece on the table and I placed it safely into its spot just in time to enjoy a glass of champagne before welcoming the first guest, feeling good to be back in the swing of entertaining at home.