'Twas the week before Christmas, when all thro' my kitchen,
Planning some great food to make the Grinch’s head spin,
Recipes were viewed and lined up with care,
In hopes that my pantry would not be too bare,
There were a few thoughts that danced in my head,
Of a darling house of cheese with a charcuterie bed,
So, I donned my apron and tied up my hair,
Ready to build without abandon or care,
When out on my counter there was a flash,
Why destroy salami and cheese that cost so much cash,
Quickly I thought, let’s make a pretty platter,
One that is tasty is all that will matter,
A cheese ball tree would be quite delish,
It is sure to make the prettiest dish,
Surrounded by nuts, grapes and meats,
Not quite ‘grammable but still would be neat,
And to add to the fun and winter land beaut’,
Sparkle up some cranberries, they will be so cute,
So, ingredients were chosen to mix and match,
As this idea started to hatch,
This was the dish that was keeping me cheery,
All with the goal for a Christmas so merry.
Long poem short, I started this month’s blog with the intent of making a spectacular charcuterie chalet. If you haven’t seen one of these it is essentially a replica of a gingerbread house but made with items you’d see on a charcuterie platter.
I bought enough meat to feed all of the North Pole and dipped into my cheese stash. My challenge was creating an edible base, but spoiler alert: it didn’t happen!
I made a square “ball” as the frame. This base would be functional and edible. Without going into great detail, my salami got sweaty and my chalet turned slowly into a snack shack that needed to be condemned.
As I disassembled in disgust with my inabilities, I swiped up some of the cheese with a cracker (maybe it was my finger, I don’t know, it was all a blur). I made one conclusion: that the actual cheeseball was out of sight!
With childlike excitement, I started remolding the cheese base. This makes more sense… a charcuterie-tree! Besides being incredibly simple, it was much more appetizing than sliding salami shingles.
Makes: 2 small trees or 1 tree and a ball, served 8 as part of an appetizer party
2 green onions (white bottoms only)
8 ounces cream cheese (room temperature), not the whipped variety
2 cups shredded cheddar (I like a good sharp cheddar)
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard or 1 Tablespoon prepared horseradish (you may want less than a full tablespoon but I like the kapow of horseradish so add a little, taste… add more.)
1 Tablespoon good ol’ powdered Hidden Valley ranch seasoning
A couple turns of fresh black pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (If you have anyone in your group with a soy allergy, check the ingredients or omit) Someone suggested liquid aminos as a substitution, but I haven’t tried that.
Toppings: chopped parsley, nuts, red pepper, yellow pepper for a star
I made mine in a large food processor and literally added it one ingredient at a time until it was well incorporated. It got a little messy so I’ll make some suggestions.
1. Chop up green onions and cheddar in the food processor. (Or finely chop with a knife.)
2. Add to a larger bowl. Use a hand mixer to add in the cream cheese, Dijon/Worcestershire, ranch seasoning and pepper. The hand mixer seemed like it blended the cream cheese better.
3. Spread out two sheets of plastic wrap (about 10-12 inches). Divide your cheese mixture into half and put one half on each square of plastic.
4. Wrap the plastic tightly around the cheese and mold into your preferred shape.
The plastic wrap is nice way to manipulate your shapes without touching the cheese and getting all sticky.
5. After you develop the shape you want, place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. (This is a good time to clean up your kitchen and wash that extra bowl.)
6. Place the cheese tree/ball into the center of a plate and gently press the topping on.
If you are not using it immediately, wrap with fresh plastic wrap so it stays pretty and place back in the refrigerator.
If you decide on making a tree, have some fun and decorate your cheese tree with some pepper ornaments or some sliced almonds for pine cones.
Pro Tip: Before you place it on your platter, put either some parchment or plastic wrap on the part of the platter you will place it. (Say that 3 times fast.) This will help keep any surrounding crackers from getting soggy.
Pro Tip #2: If you make two trees, you can put both on your tray at once or pop on the 2nd one after the first one gets demolished!
Pro Tip #3: I read multiple recipes that recommended freezing the cheese so it keeps the right shape. I disagree. I think you would disturb the texture or flavor too much.
Pro Tip #4: Make this added bonus accoutrement for your cheese platter.
2 cups simple syrup
8 ounces of fresh cranberries, washed and picked through for bad ones
1. Soak cranberries overnight in simple syrup. If there are too many floating to the top, add a weight. I used plastic wrap and topped it with a saucer.
2. Place a cooling rack on a baking sheet. (This is really more to keep your counter from becoming a sticky mess.) Remove the cranberries from the syrup, place on rack and let air dry for about 15 minutes. They should not be dripping wet. You want them to be sticky.
3. You can either put your sugar in a bowl and roll them individually or sprinkle sugar over the top. I used two different sugars so it had some depth to it. The sanding sugar is kind of chunky so the regular white sugar filled in the empty spots.
4. Serve them in little glass bowls on your cheese/sausage platter. They are sweet, tangy and delicious!
If you are wondering about wine pairings for your next cheese tray, take advantage of our Virtual Culinary Heaven: Wine and Cheese Pairing class available on Thursday, December 30 at 6:30pm CST. You can even reserve a wine package to pick up at The Chopping Block so you can drink along at home.
Or, learn to make more than a cheese tray during our Hands-On Irresistible Appetizer Class coming up this Sunday, December 19 at 11am at Lincoln Square. (Santa called me and said he’d rather have Gougères than cookies!)
Happy holidays from my nonexistent Charcuterie Chalet to yours!