This post is sponsored by Cracker Barrel Cheese. Summer is here and with it countless opportunities to get outdoors and celebrate with family and friends. And no celebration would be complete without the cheese, of course. A well-stocked pantry is key to being ready to put together a celebration-worthy cheeseboard on a moment’s notice. An assortment of crackers, dried fruit, jams and mustards and a few nice serving pieces will keep you prepared.
I spoke recently with Jeff Mauro, seventh season winner of the Food Network Star and host of Sandwich King on the Food Network. In celebration of National Cheese Day, Jeff was partnering with the award-winning Cracker Barrel cheese that recently placed best in class because of its rich full flavor with its sharp cheddar at the 2013 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest. Here’s what Jeff had to say about creating party-worthy sandwiches.
Q. What three cheeses should someone keep on hand for sandwich creating?
A. You want strong flavors that can stand up to the other bold flavors in the sandwich. A sharp cheddar, smoked gouda and nutty provolone.
Q. How would you prepare sandwiches to serve as hors d’oeuvres at a party?
A. Keep them small; don’t give guests too much. Lay it out on a cheese plate and let your guests get creative. Slider buns, dried fruit, raisins, mustards — and some aged cheddar.
Q. What’s your most champagne-worthy sandwich creation?
A. Gotta have something fruity, salty and gooey — sharp yellow cheddar, sliced green apple and honey, grilled.
Of course I had to ask a personal question. What was his earliest memory about cheese? A local fontinella his family always had at the house. As a kid, he took it to school for lunch and stunk up his locker. “I was known as the kid with the stinky cheese,” he confesses. Gotta love that.
I used Jeff’s tips to create a simple but elegant summer party spread with three elements:
- a “signature” grilled cheese,
- a seasonal cheese plate, and
- a make-your-own sandwich station.
I prepped the apple-cheddar-honey grilled cheese ahead of time so that guests would have something to nibble right away.
I love serving cheese on cake platters instead of the typical cheese boards. It elevates the cheese and provides a centerpiece at the same time. Keep the flower arrangements low so that the cheese is really the star of the table.
Because there are a lot of strong flavors in the sandwiches, I kept the cheese plate very simple and accessible with three full-flavored but not overpowering sure-to-please cheeses, starting with cheddar:
- Cracker Barrel Aged Reserve cheddar
- Basque aged sheeps milk cheese (from Trader Joe’s)
- Aged Gruyere
The rich, full flavor and creamy texture of Cracker Barrel’s aged reserve pairs well with summer berries. Some crackers and dried fruit can go along side, too — and a little pot of honey &/or balsamic syrup.
For the sandwich station, make sure to include two types of bread (here I’ve used rye and pretzel bread), two meats and two cheeses, sliced and ready to assemble. This gives guests enough choices to mix and match without overwhelming them with too many options. Pickles and mustards are a must, too.
My sandwich creations:
- Pretzel bread + mustard + sausage + Cracker Barrel sharp cheddar
- Rye bread + mustard + roast beef + apple + Cracker Barrel aged reserve cheddar
A final tips for easy summer entertaining:
- Choose a monochromatic color scheme inspired by what’s growing in your garden — right now our blue hydrangeas are definitely the star of the show.
- Write suggested sandwich pairings on a small chalkboard to guide your guests.
- Place fresh berries in the bottom of your champagne glasses, then top with prosecco as your guests arrive.
What’s your favorite summer sandwich pairing? Personally, I can’t wait for juicy summer peaches to pair with fresh mozzarella.
Disclosure: This post is part of a series sponsored by Cracker Barrel Cheese. I am being compensated for my time as part of their Influencer program, but all thoughts and opinions are my own, as always. Read our full disclosure policy here.