Holiday Meat and Cheese Boards
By Dawn Duncan

Tina Mooney first learned about the beauty and complexity of meat and cheese boards when she saw the work of Santa Fe food artisan Lilith Spencer. Mooney spent years making themed trays of food for her kids’ parties at school and applying her art skills crafting impressive edible art, but Spencer’s craftsmanship sparked a new level of creativity.

Mooney is the owner of The Fox & The Crow bistro in Fort Collins, which specializes in cheeses from around the world and delectable fare, including charcuterie, cheese and meat boards, sandwiches, salads and soups. The bistro has a beer and wine list, unique retail area and catering options, making it a go-to for customers seeking foods from around the world as well as American favorites such as grilled cheese with a twist.

Mooney, a native of Queens, New York, has always had a passion for art and one that evolved into the foodie scene. She was looking for a job in Northern Colorado that would suit her interests but didn’t find anything that intrigued her. Around the same time, Mooney went home to NYC and happened to visit a cheese shop there. She fell in love with the idea of opening a shop like it in Fort Collins. In 2014, her determination came to fruition with the opening of The Fox & The Crow.

It’s difficult for Mooney to choose her favorite cheese, but a hard-aged Gouda paired with a smoked salami is her current pick; she loves the sweet nuttiness of the cheese. She walks us through building the perfect meat and cheese board to impress your family this holiday season.

To build a cheese and meat tray that is a visual showstopper as well as a tasty blend of flavors, Mooney suggests first get to know the crowd you will be feeding. “Do you want it mild, middle of the road, or wild?” she asks. Do you want just cheese and accompaniments? Just charcuterie and pickles? Are you pairing with wine? Once you know the purpose, it’s time to come up with a vision and
ingredients.

For a wine pairing, Mooney usually pairs to the wine’s terroir (the place it comes from). “Think a wonderfully strong Pecorino Toscanos with a big Tuscan wine,” she says.

For a mild platter, one Mooney calls a “crowd pleaser,” she suggests incorporating a soft cheese for spreading, a crumbled, aged Gouda and a Spanish sheep’s milk cheese.

Whatever the theme, Mooney recommends planning 2 ounces of cheese per person. The variety depends on the occasion and palette. “Some people only like cow milk cheese, and if that’s the case, variety means different styles of that.”

Now, it is time to build. Choose a platter that has some interest. A spinning marble lazy Susan, or a live edge wood slab make beautiful backdrops for your platter.

To assemble, Mooney begins in the middle of the platter, working her way around. Among the cheese and charcuterie, she places ramekins filled with jam, pickled items and mustards. Mooney continues to cover and build up the display until it is bursting, covering the platter underneath. She also adds in fresh seasonal fruits, nuts, dried fruit and some fun additions, such as chocolate  covered almonds or even gummies to fill in the platter.

Some tricks of the trade include cutting your semi hard and hard cheese in advance. This will save money and make the platter a little more user-friendly. Folding sliced meat in spirals adds a beautiful look as well. Crackers are not a necessity but are good for cleansing the palate.

Special touches can also include fresh herbs and non-toxic flowers, as well as seasonal touches such as half a pomegranate on a holiday platter or rosemary
to add texture.

“I love using rosemary. It gives the color and texture of pine trees with an enticing aroma,” says Mooney. The rosemary also infuses anything next to it with flavor, so she recommends setting it by a cheese, such as a Spanish Manchego, or by the meats.

Mooney also loves to creatively cut fruit— anything to give her platter more texture and color. For a fun twist, she suggests getting creative with cookie cutters, using your favorite holiday cutter with a small format brie, and then filling the decorative hole with your favorite jam—it is an easy way to make a great centerpiece for your board. “It looks like a cheese Linzer cookie,” she
adds.

For optimal flavor, take your cheese board out of the refrigerator and bring to room temperature, about an hour before serving.

The end result is a stunner for your holiday buffet; one that will keep your guests talking long after your party.

COMTE GOUGERES:
Mooney, affectionately referred to as the Big Cheese on The Fox and The Crow’s social media, says her favorite cheesy appetizer, and one that is perfect for the holidays, is Comte Gougeres.

Originally from Burgundy, these are served before dinner with an aperitif (Champagne or Kir Royale would be perfect). Mooney comments, “They are golden cheese puffs from Heaven. You can use any type of Alpine cheese. I recommend Comte.”

[ Makes: 40 ]

Ingredients:
1 cup Water
3.5 oz. Salted Butter
1 ¼ cup Flour (plain)
2 cups grated Comte
4 Eggs
Dash of nutmeg
Egg yolk wash
Salt and pepper to taste (Mooney notes
she prefers a generous amount of black
pepper)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375ºF.

In a saucepan, heat water and butter to a boil. Add the flour, stirring fast, and
remove from heat. Let sit until flour forms a ball. Slowly add the eggs, one at a
time, and stir. The mixture will eventually be like a smooth batter.

Add the cheese, leaving a small bit of cheese for sprinkling on top of the cheese balls, and add salt and pepper. On a baking sheet lined with parchment, spoon out walnut-sized balls and glaze with the egg wash. Top with remaining cheese.

Bake for approximately 25 minutes until puffy and golden.

(Note: These can be made ahead and reheated or frozen.)

Dawn Duncan is a writer, editor and marketing agency owner living in Fort Collins. To comment on this article, email letters@nocostyle.com.