When I was first introduced to fine cheese—in France, many years ago—it came with nothing. At least that’s my recollection. Just beautiful cheeses, as many as you wanted from the restaurant trolley, with more fresh-sliced baguette in the breadbasket. Now, in the Instagram age, a cheese board with cheese alone looks naked and pitiful, like you’re not trying. Where are the nuts, the honeycomb, the preserves, the pickles, the locally made artisan crackers?
I have mixed feelings about this trend. I love that more people are passionate about cheese and view a cheese board as the centerpiece of their parties. But I suspect that some people are intimidated by these elaborate boards and fearful of making mistakes. One of the questions I get frequently in classes is, “What else should I serve with this cheese?” The implication, of course, is that good cheese alone isn’t good enough.
Guests who come to my house for dinner are probably surprised by the sparseness of the cheese course. Cheese, bread, wine. Maybe new-crop walnuts or almonds in autumn. I tend to leave it at that.
Even so, Lassa Skinner’s new book, Cheese Boards to Share, includes several recipes for cheese accompaniments I’m eager to try. Honey infused with brined green peppercorns. Green olives with Marcona almonds, sliced kumquats, dried red chiles, cumin and olive oil. (What a fun complement to Manchego or Vella Dry Jack.) Savory peppery oatcakes that look like a terrific snack, with or without cheese.
I made the book’s Nectarine and Serrano Jam—a big hit—and it will be on my future cheese boards, possibly with Cheddar, fresh goat cheese or a firm aged goat or sheep cheese like Ossau Iraty.
Nectarine and Serrano Jam
I loved the barely perceptible green-chili heat in this jam. Bump up the serrano quantity if you want it bolder. Skinner purees the nectarines before adding the sugar, but I did not. By the time the jam is done, the skins are a non-issue. Adapted from Cheese Boards to Share by Thalassa Skinner (Ryland Peters).
4 large ripe nectarines, pitted and quartered
½ serrano pepper, thinly sliced, seeds included
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Place the nectarine quarters in a heavy saucepan and add ¼ cup water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the nectarines are completely soft and broken down, about 20 minutes.
Add the sliced serrano, sugar and lemon juice to taste. Bring to a simmer, stirring, then adjust the heat to maintain a steady simmer and cook, stirring often, until the jam is as thick as you like, 30 to 45 minutes. To test doneness, spoon a small amount onto a chilled saucer and return to the refrigerator until cold. If the jam is runny when cold, keep cooking.
Makes a scant 2 cups