As the world begins to normalize just a little bit, I find myself really leaning into celebrating the changes of the seasons. After things felt like they were just absolutely stuck for so long, there's something really beautiful about marking the passage of time — through decorations, through menus and through ingredients.
That's why, for your next late autumn or early winter get-together, you should add a few seasonal updates to your cheese plate.
Start with the cheese, obviously. While in the spring you may gravitate towards lighter cheeses with grassy or floral notes, like young goat cheeses and soft-ripened Cottenbell, colder weather brings the opportunity for richer, more luxe options.
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Pick two or three and use those as your centerpieces; I like a triple crème brie, a smoked Manchego and a really nice Parm. Your local cheesemonger can tell you what's best and what they have that's most in-season, but the accepted wisdom of picking a hard cheese, a soft cheese and a blue cheese works well, too.
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Nuts, fruit and seeds
Then come the seasonal add-ons like nuts, fruits and seeds. Here are a few suggestions:
- Pomegranate seeds
- Roasted pumpkin seeds (here are three of our favorite ways to dress them up)
- Spiced pecans or walnuts
- Halved figs
- Sliced blood oranges
- Dried cranberries
- Dried apricots
I have a few standards that I like to toss on cheese boards: good jam, interesting marmalades, hot (or not) honey, olive tapenade. However, in keeping with prioritizing seasonal ingredients, there are two easy condiments that really speak to the season and pair beautifully with cold-weather cheeses. The first is a tart cranberry-date relish, garnished with a heap of orange zest. I modeled this recipe after the cranberry-date bars that my grandmother made, and my mother now makes, every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The sweetness of this relish makes it feel like a festive choice for a holiday cheese board, while the acidity complements the richer cheeses quite nicely.
Like apple butter, this sweet potato butter has, as expected, a sweet and slightly caramelized flavor, while the bourbon imparts the flavors of vanilla and baking spices.
Both are easy to make and store nicely in the refrigerator in sealed containers for up to two weeks. Here are the recipes:
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Recipe: Cranberry-Date Relish
- ½ pound of fresh cranberries
- ¼ cup of pitted and roughly chopped dates
- 1 tablespoon of honey
- 2 tablespoons of water
- Juice of 1 orange (reserve zest for garnish)
1. In a food processor, pulse the cranberries and dates until they are finely-chopped and uniform in size.
2. Transfer to a small saucepan, along with the honey, water and the orange juice. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat, allowing the relish to simmer for about ten minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
3. Ideally, you'd allow the relish to chill in the refrigerator in a covered container overnight so the flavors can meld together. When you are ready to serve, top with the reserved orange zest.
Recipe: Sweet Potato and Bourbon Butter
- 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1 apple, peeled and cubed
- 2 cups of water
- 1 cup of apple juice
- 3 tablespoons of bourbon
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
1. In a heavy saucepan, combine all ingredients; mix well. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 2 hours or until mixture is thickened and about 1 cup of liquid remains, stirring occasionally. Remove the cinnamon stick.
2. In a blender, process mixture in batches until smooth. Transfer to jars or covered containers. Chill for at least two hours before serving. Store in the refrigerator.
More of our favorite holiday dishes: