There’s something to be said about pre-portioned appetizers. They’re easy for your guests to chow down on, low on mess, and really rather attractive. With a little extra preparation from the host (or any helpers milling about), this meat and cheese wreath can be a winning party nosh before the big meal that doesn’t obliterate the appetite of your guests.
This charcuterie wreath takes a cue from bite-sized salad preparations, like this hand-held endive salad. Essentially you’re pre-assembling your guest’s tasty snack, so they merely have to reach out and shuttle it over to their face. No miniature cheese knives; all easy eating, and easy clean-up. There’s also a bit of strategy involved. Portioning out appetizers makes you less likely to throw four wheels of cheese on a cutting board and call it a day. This seems lavish, but with no end in sight, your hungry guests are likely to fill themselves up before dinner. Building small bites for your guests allows them to properly whet their appetites for the full meal ahead.
This cheese and charcuterie wreath (or flower, depending on the time of year), involves two types of crackers, two types of meat, two pre-made spreads, and one handful of my favorite olives. Do some R&D beforehand and taste-test your pairings so you create solid, complementary bites. Be sure to offer a variety of textures and bite sizes. I use a sturdy everything bagel cracker, and a two-inch circular butter cracker from a Trader Joe’s cracker assortment pack. Lay out the crackers, alternating and overlapping slightly, to create a circular shape.
Slice your cheeses and lay them on the appropriate crackers. I used Manchego and a young Pecorino Romano. Add your meats. If you’re rolling any salamis, or other thin cuts that have a tendency to unfurl, put down a dollop of dip first and tuck the roll partially into the dip. This will help hold the shape. Add any final dips and fill the center with something delicious. For the dips I used babaganoush and a red pepper dip. I filled the center with a handful of jalepeño-stuffed olives, but you could use a small bowl of another dip, cheese spread, spiced nuts, or honey for drizzling.
You can build this board about one or two hours in advance, and keep it in the fridge without any compromises in texture or flavor. If you have any dips in direct contact with crackers, make sure it’s a thick, sturdy flatbread like I used. Thinner, more buttery crackers risk getting soggy. To put dip on those, make sure the cheese is down first, creating a barrier between the dip and the cracker, and dab a bit on top of that. Feel free to change out the flavors, and make the wreath work for your particular group of guests. Make it cheese only, or meats only, try new dips, or make it twice as large if you have a big group coming over. You can safely predict each guest will eat two or three, and leave it at that. (Again, the point is to whet, not satisfy, their appetites.)
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