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Al Fresco Eats Made Easy

These past few months may have exhausted your kitchen creativity with the need to constantly produce homecooked meals. We can usually give ourselves a break and let someone else do the cooking by going to a restaurant.

But other than the occasional take-out meal as a treat, most home cooks have been churning out two or three meals everyday. Emerging from our winter cocoons and being able to barbecue provides some relief, but sometimes even the thought of putting yet another chicken breast on the ‘barby’ can seem onerous.

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Charcuterie and cheese boards are cool customers when temperatures soar and culinary enthusiasm lags. Prepping these simple meals leaves time to put thought into serving a special wine, exploring local craft beer offerings online or inventing a new cocktail.

Knowing what cheeses and charcuterie ingredients to serve together can be tricky but Rick Peori, owner of All ‘Bout Cheese, has some advice. “If you are having five to eight guests, start with three or four cheeses.” Add another variety of cheese with every one or two guests you add to the list.

Fine advice if you have a larger family or later when we’re able to have guests over, but for now it maybe just be you or the two of you (for couples) who will be consuming the board. In that case, Peori advises to start with at least two cheeses, “one that’s his kind and one that’s her kind.”

To ensure there are choices to wake up your palate, he recommends offering cheeses that contrast in their flavours, ages and types of milk they are made from: sheep, goat, cow and water buffalo. Peori says to start building your selection with universal pleaser Gunn’s Hill Five Brothers. This Swiss/Gouda cross is produced by the award-winning artisanal cheesemaker, located outside Woodstock.

“It’s the number one go-to recommended as a perfect companion to both wine and beer. It’s also great with fruit, so it’s a hit with kids, too,” said Peori. Next add a smoky cheese, like Applewood Smoked Cheddar from Britain or a smoked goat cheese from Blyth Farm Cheese.

Then add a fresh goat cheese that is “soft and applies nicely to a cracker,” like C’estbon Chevre from St. Marys. “Serve it with olive tapenade or a tart jelly,” said Peori.

Don’t make the mistake of adding salted or strongly flavoured crackers to your boards, as they will distract from the cheeses, he added, recommending bread sticks or baguettes.

Dipping a chunk of baguette in one of the many varieties of extra virgin olive oil from The Pristine Olive elevates the al fresco dining experience. According to owner Jamie Griffiths, drizzling balsamic vinegar over some of the softer varieties is an excellent way to change up your cheese experience. “Fig balsamic vinegar with brie is popular with a lot of people,” he adds.

The Pristine Olive is serving customers through its website, with pickups available once a week by appointment.

Contrast your cheese board with charcuterie, created from both smoked, preserved salamis and hams and fresh sausages that you pre-cook and allow to cool before slicing onto your serving platter.

Miki Hambalek, The Hungary Butcher in London, makes and sells 54 international styles of sausage. He, too, recommends serving a variety of meats to be sure to please all your guests.

“Andouille sausage, from Louisiana, is a spicy variety that pairs nicely with a fermented sauerkraut and Applewood Smoked Gouda,” advised Hambalek.

Contrast that with a sweeter sausage, like Hawaiian with bacon, and serve with a dry white wine. He suggested that serving chorizo or steak-and-onion sausage with hearty craft beers also works well.

Purchasing sausages – German or Genoa salami, prosciutto, soprasetta or capicola – pre-sliced will save you time but slicing them yourself, arranging your cheese choices just right and sprinkling colour and texture throughout your plates and platters – in the form of condiments and fruit – will ensure your platters are true works of art created by you, the host or hostess who cares.

The Three Cs of Enjoyment

Cheese, Charcuterie, and Chilling

Life can be extra stressful now, so sitting down at the end of the day and spending time in the back yard, on the balcony or by the pool is more important and more enjoyable than ever. Indulging in an end-of-the-day libation can enhance your enjoyment of this relaxing experience. Here are tips to aid in choosing an adult beverage to complement your cheese and charcuterie boards, maximizing your chill time.

  • Gunn’s Hill Five Brothers Cheese goes well with Kolsch beer
  • Applewood Smoked Cheddar Cheese stands alongside oaked Chardonnay wine
  • Smoked goat cheese is complemented by black IPA beer
  • C’estbon Chevre works with white/wheat beer
  • Andouille sausage is cooled off when served with India Pale Ale beer
  • Genoa salami goes down well with Appassimento (Ripasso) red wine
  • Prosciutto’s flavour is complemented by Sangiovese Chianti
  • Soppressata is yummy with Gose beer
  • Capicola works well with dry Rose wine
  • Hawaiian-with-bacon sausage pairs well with an off-dry Riesling

The Market at Western Fair District

892 Dundas Street

884 Adelaide Street North