Winter Holiday Cheese Board

Two (two!) days until Chanukah. Are you ready? It’s been go, go, go for me as I’ve had the food aspect of the holiday on my mind. Understandable given the nature of this space. But I think at this point I need to focus on what we’ll be up to during the long winter evening after candle lighting. And maybe even on the deeper significance of the celebration. The triumph of little over many, light over darkness, spirituality over materialism. Miracles. Except I’m still working on the guest list. My head is floating between trying new latke recipes and fulfilling requests to keep things classic. Of finding new games to play, experiences to share, and establishing a family tradition. Of saying yes to presents so those little pairs of eyes twinkle brighter than the glowing candles and refusing, maybe vehemently, to buy into the fabricated practice. I realize I just crave one thing: simplicity. To just be and connect in the most basic way. To silence the messages that scream “more” and “better” or at least to cover my ears (and eyes) and just experience fully the gratitude in the moment. I love Chanukah and it’s validating message that being less is more in the most humble way. Really, let’s talk food again.

This last charcuterie board was epic, maybe elaborate but no one’s complaining. I knew I wanted to put together a smaller iteration, a little sister of sort to the handsome meat platter. The lighter, dainty even, cheese is the perfect appetizer to begin a holiday meal. Save for minimal prep, most of the effort comes in gathering the various elements and arranging them on a beautiful board that doubles as a centerpiece. While your guests nibble and enjoy the different textures and taste, you can focus your attention on the bubbling pot of oil and whatever is frying in there.

I chose a variety of cheeses based on what was easily available at my market. You should do the same. Whatever you arrange will look beautiful and by extension appetizing. I did upgrade a few of the offerings with a homemade touch. Namely, lightly pan frying the halloumi so you get a sweet crust to the salty cheese. I’ve made them before here but they bore repeating. A sprinkling of za’atar over the mozzarella balls gives the creamy cheese more depth. Nudging the fruit, crackers and cheese close and cozy is key to making the board look abundant. And yes, dark chocolate sits in its rightful place, right at the center. I would suggest you pre-slice the cheese, it’s more inviting.

Winter Holiday Cheese Board

1 small camembert

2 inch sliver of honeycomb

1 block haloumi, see recipe below

1 container fresh mozzarella balls, see recipe below

1 wedge hard cheese such as manchego, parmesan or gruyere.

2-3 tablespoons raspberry preserves

1 pear, sliced

1 cup olives

1 chunk hazelnut halva

1-2 persimmons

1 pomegranate, seeded

3-4 tablespoons roasted pepitas

1 bag olive crackers or grain crackers

Place the olives and raspberry preserves in small bowls. Using your favorite board, place the camembert in the center and top with honeycomb. To the sides, add the manchego and haloumi strips, as well as the mozzarella balls. Style the rest of the elements as you wish, creating clusters of crackers, fruits, and halva. Garnish with the pomegranate arils and pepitas. Serve.

Maple Fried Halloumi

100g halloumi cheese, sliced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon maple syrup

Heat a skillet over medium high heat, add the olive oil and maple. The maple will start to bubble and caramelize. Add the haloumi strips and fry on each side until browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate to cool before adding to the cheese board.

Za’atar Mozzarella Balls

1 container fresh mozzarella balls, drained

½ chile pepper, thinly sliced

½ teaspoon za’atar

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon olive oil

Mint leaves, for garnish

In a small bowl, place the mozzarella balls and chile pepper. Sprinkle za’atar and salt over them and pour the oil. Garnish with mint leaves.