8 November 2013

A Cheese Board with a View

So it's November and chilly and rainy and full of autumn-nearing-winter-ness, that doesn't mean you can't picnic.  Take a fancy cheese plate somewhere with a good sunset view.

Potato cracker with Alexis de Portneuf's La Sauvigne, Keep Calm and Eat On's Debjani's chutney and some toasted wild beaked hazelnuts.

Still buzzing from the recent Wine Show and having been reminded by a meal at Chinched Bistro that there's more to cheese and crackers than cheese and crackers, we bring you:

A Cheese Course for the Canadian Outdoors

Although we highly recommend taking this outside, it will work nearly as well at a fancy-dress-up dinner party or in your pjs on your couch during a marathon of Ru Paul's Drag Race.

We made our own cheese board by picking up a flat piece of slate on day when we were out walking... we took it home, scrubbed it up and sealed it with olive oil.  I won't guarantee it's food safe, but it's awful pretty, it was very nearly free, and neither of us seem to be suffering ill effects.

For the cheese:

Use this as an excuse to buy a bunch of good looking cheeses.  We typically like to include at least three or four from a range of textures and ages.  Canadians are producing a lot of good cheese these days and if you do a bit of work to find it, you may be surprised at how much more there is than mild cheddar. We purchased a really nice selection of cheese, all from Quebec, at Belbin's (a local independent grocer, which is the next best thing to local cheese):

La Sauvagine (soft)  and Tilsit (semi-soft) from La Fromagerie Alexis de Portneuf

Mont Gleason Emmenthal (semi-hard) from La Fromagerie 1860 du Village

Bleu Benedictin (blue) from Saint-Benoit du Lac Fromagerie


For the accompaniments:

Plan a variety of complimentary flavours covering some basics: sweet, sour, spicy, nutty.  We used:

Apple jelly

Dried feral apple rings

Late Summer Chutney, a handmade gift from Debjani of Keep Calm and Eat On (for the record, not only does she have a beautiful blog, but she is a real pleasure to talk to)

Olive oil toasted beaked hazelnuts (see below for instructions)

For the crackers:

Because we're those people, we made our own potato crackers.  Try it yourself, we promise that you won't be disappointed.  They have a down-to-earth flavour but won't compete with the cheeses.

For the wine:

Quite frankly, pick a wine you enjoy or you've been wanting to try or is recommended by the helpful people at your local liquor store.  Outside in the chilly air, it might have been advisable to pick a white wine, but cool weather = red wine weather.  Yeah, you aren't supposed to chill red wine, but it turns out that if it's not too heavy on the tannins (e.g. beaujolais, simple valpolicella, pinot noir), a chill doesn't really hurt it .  If it's very cold out, tuck the bottle in your jacket.  No matter what you do, if you are outside, it will taste like camping wine (and don't misread me: there is absolutely nothing wrong with camping wine), so pick something you like but in the lower end of your price range.

Sit back and relax and enjoy the autumn sunset.

 Olive Oil Toasted Beaked Hazelnuts

2 tbsp olive oil
dried beaked hazelnuts, shelled

Heat oil in a cast iron skillet on medium-high (use more than 2 tbsp if your skillet is large; don't worry about having too much, you can use it later).  When it's hot, put the nuts in the pan and turn the heat down to medium.  Stir frequently with a wooden spoon until nuts are golden brown in colour.  Remove from heat and strain oil into a heat proof container through a wire sieve.  Salt the nuts in the sieve and toss to coat.  Let cool before eating.

The remaining olive oil, cooled, makes for a good base for dressing your next salad.

You can substitute other raw nuts.  The hand-picked and painstakingly peeled and shelled wild hazelnuts are best, but olive oil toasted almonds are very good too.


When we moved to Newfoundland from Ontario, we drove across the country, crammed in to our '91 Tbird with all our earthly belongings during a serious summer heat wave with a stuck-forever-shut passenger-side window.  You're right, that is a spacious car, but earthly belongings plus camping equipment plus a good-sized dog take up a surprising lot of room.  When we got to North Sydney (way too early to line up for the ferry) we were hot and exhausted and hungry.  So we drove around looking for a shade tree .  If you've ever taken the ferry from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland, and can recall the landscape near the dock, you will have a sense of how difficult this task was.

We did eventually find a tree.  Granted, it was a short skinny tree but acceptable because it had a picnic table to provide shade for the dog.  It quickly became apparent that we were a source of some amusement, given how many people were slowing down and staring at us.  We were a bit puzzled and becoming a bit worried.  Then, as Fefe was juicing a lemon and I was pressing garlic over our freshly chopped greek salad, it hit us:  when you bring sheep's milk feta and kalamata olives to a picnic (never mind a garlic press), you might be interpreted as putting on airs.  Those girls are from Toronto for sure; no doubt about it.  I hoped they packed enough olives for the trip because they won't find any* where they're headed.

*That was true 11 years ago, but is not true now.  We used to get Fefe Noir's mother to mail vaccuum packed kalamata olives; these days we can buy them just about anywhere, though not necessarily whenever we want.  Buying them in 4 liter jars reduces the likelihood of being without for any length of time.

We still take our picnicking seriously.

For one thing, since being outdoors is it's own reward, eating outdoors is like winning best-of-show.  We are like the mythical postal service when it comes to picnicking: sun, rain, sleet, snow, hail, cold, hot, humid, windy... it doesn't matter.  I have a very strong memory of a particular early spring hike where it was so cold the olive oil in the dolmades had solidified.  Did I say dolmades?  Yes, that's the other thing: eating outdoors is a great excuse for really really good finger food.

So, as you can see, the rapidly encroaching evening darkness and chilly temperatures don't dissuade us from heading out to a favourite picnic spot to enjoy wine and cheese while the loons call in the sunset. 



  1. I am so happy you enjoyed the little jar of chutney. And thank you for the mention.
    You guys are always up to so much fun. Food tastes so much better outside, out in the open, eaten with fingers. Last year I took up a tart to Signal Hill. It was made of the blueberries picked atop the same hill. It was so much fun. You guys are inspiring me again.


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