Tag Archive for #simplepleasures

How to Build a Cheese Board

The most-entertained weekend of the year is upon us. Chances are, if you are going to a Christmas party, you’re going to one this weekend.

My dear friend Bronwen holds an annual party this weekend every year, and the party is themed around cheese and her husband’s birthday. The centrepiece of the party is a phyllo-wrapped brie. It’s 7 different kinds of amazing.

Entertaining with cheese is a great option. First off, there’s no cooking–you just buy what you need, and make it look pretty on the plate. Secondly, who doesn’t like cheese? Thirdly, cheese pairs well with wine. ‘Nuff said!

how to build a cheese board

With a bit of know-how, you can look like a cheese-plate rock star, so here are some things to keep in mind when building your board.

How to Build a Cheese Board

Start with 3-4 cheeses, but make sure they have varying textures. I like to put out:

  • something soft and creamy, like a brie
  • something of medium firmness, like a gouda
  • something firm and familiar, like an aged cheddar
  • something hard and ripened, like a parmesan
  • OR something a little exotic, like a blue

Cheese “vehicles”: thinly-sliced baguette is the most obvious choice.  You want at least one kind of bread or cracker that is quite neutral, so you can get the essence of the cheese. I also like to serve some crackers. One of my faves right now is a rosemary-infused one, but I also really love fruit crisps (Lesley Stowe makes them and Terra Breads also does a nice one), and I like to include some gluten-free ones (Mary’s) as well.

Fruit: grapes are the most popular choice, but you could also go with thinly-sliced apples ore pears. You could even go with dried fruit here: apricots, figs or dates.

Nuts: nuts add a nice textural component to your plate. They add crunch. I’d do candied walnuts, pecans or almonds.

Condiments: it’s fun to add accents to your cheese and experiment with different flavour combos. So, to enhance your cheese board, include little pots of mustards, chutneys or jams. My favourite thing right now is brie with my garlic scape jam. Jalapeño jelly is also a wonderful pairing.

How much to buy: 3 pounds (total) for 8 people, 6 pounds (total) for 16, or 9 pounds (total) for 24. (Source)

how to build a cheese board

Suggestions: over the last 3 months, I’ve had the opportunity to sample a lot of Canadian Cheese. Here are my favourites:

Soft and creamy: Comox Camembert from Natural Pastures in Comox. I love to support local, and this beautiful, soft cheese from the Island is about as local as it gets!

Medium: Love the smoked gouda (or in fact, any kind of gouda–it’s gouda!) from Glasgow Glen Farm in PEI.

Cheddar: I love every single cheese I’ve ever had from Cows and Avonlea our of PEI. Cows does an amazing Applewood Smoked Cheddar that I dream about, and the Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar is nutty and crumbly. Natural Pastures Aged Farmhouse was also a favourite.

Firm: Mountain Oak Farmstead Premium Dutch, and Nostrala from Kootenay Alpine Cheese co.

Blue: I know some people think blue cheese is weird. That it tastes like feet. But I love it, especially with a big, bold red wine. My favourite blue, however, is a French cheese, not a Canadian one. It’s called St. Agur, and it’s the like the bastard love child of blue cheese and brie. It’s a delicious combination.

By the way, you can have the opportunity to win my exact December cheese basket by creating a “Cheese Board” on Pinterest, and pinning 10 photos of Canadian Cheese onto it. Details are here.

Happy Cheesing!

Ricotta Gnocchi

Gnocchi, like fresh pasta, or risotto, is one of those recipes that appears simple at the outset, but actually is quite hard to make well. There are only a few ingredients–flour, eggs, some seasonings, and that’s about it. But understanding how to handle the dough, knowing when it’s ready, not overworking it, these are things that can take a lifetime to learn how to do properly.

ricotta gnocchi

I will admit to having a bit of a gnocchi obsession since eating Trevor Bird’s pillowy versions at Fable. Trevor gave me some great advice on how to make mine tender, as well, and you can read it here.

Still, it’s not something I’ve made as much as I thought I would. It’s quite a bit of work, and at my local market, they often go on sale for less than $2/package, which is when I stock up.

But there’s a different kind of gnocchi, which doesn’t involve any potatoes, yams or squash. It’s basically cheese, eggs and flour. I mean, c’mon! How could that possibly be bad??

Indeed, it is not. I’ve made these twice, now, and both times they turned out beautifully–soft and yummy–with a fraction of the work that it takes to make the potato kind.

Ricotta Gnocchi with Sage Butter

(adapted from Epicurious)


  • 2 cups whole-milk ricotta (I use Silani)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups grated hard cheese, similar to Parmesian, Romano or Peccorino (I used a Mountain Oak)
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 large sprig of fresh sage
  • additional grated cheese to finish


  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta and eggs. Add the cheese, nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Depending on how thick your ricotta is, you may want to use a handmixer for this part. Otherwise, you can use a whisk.
  2. Add flour in 1/4 cup batches, stirring to form a soft, wet dough. When the dough starts to come away from the edges of the bowl, it’s ready. Place it aside for about 20 minutes to rest.
  3. Take half the dough and heavily flour your working surface. Form the dough into a rope, and roll it out, until it’s about 1″ thick. Cut 1″ pieces out of the rope. Toss each piece on to a well-floured cookie sheet, and you can toss them around in the flour a little, as well, to make sure they don’t stick together.
  4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Toss the gnocchi in, one at a time, until you have 20 or so in the pot. Give it a good stir, then let it go until the gnocchi rise to the top. Give them another minute, then remove them from the boiling water with a slotted spoon to a colander. Continue in batches until they are all cooked.
  5. In a large, non-stick skillet, heat the butter, then toss in the individual sage leaves. Add the gnocchi (you may need to do this in two batches so as not to overcrowd the pan), and season well with salt and pepper. Gently toss until the gnocchi are slightly brown and caramelized on the outside.
  6. Serve in a bowl with additional gratings of cheese.

PS. You can win the Mountain Oak and four other kinds of Canadian Cheese by entering the #SimplePleasures of #CDNCheese Contest.