During the party season, let the cheese board take center stage. Cheese and charcuterie are a perfect accompaniment to cocktails, and, with a little thought, provide a stunning centerpiece. I never tire of arranging cheese platters and baskets, using the season and holidays for inspiration. For this wintry cheese basket I picked sturdy deeply colored greens with firm, spiky and frizzy leaves to provide the bed and border and studded it with woody gnarled garnishes such as burdock root and Jerusalem artichokes. The cheese selection was equally hearty and texturally diverse: Ash-rubbed goat cheese, crumbling blue veined gorgonzola, a pungent brandy-washed rind cheese, and billowy soft white cheese. The crisps and crackers were dark, rough and seeded, weaving through the cheese like paths in a forest. A cheese board can be lavish or simple. No matter the size or level of fanciness, try to balance your cheese selection in strength, texture, flavor and color. As a simple rule of thumb, serve a blue, a soft white molded cheese such as Camembert, a goat cheese and a hard alpine cow or sheep milk cheese. Vary the shapes as well, choosing wedges, bricks and molded rounds. Use edible garnishes and decorations with a variety of colors and textures that emphasize the season. Snipped rosemary sprigs, mustard greens, chicories, purple kale, frisée, miniature red pears, black radishes, burdock root, gourds, black olives, pumpkins seeds, dried currants and cranberries are all great cold weather decorations. Scatter the crisps and snacks throughout the board, piled in small bowls or nestled in cabbage heads or radicchio leaves. Nuts and seeds, black sesame rice crackers, dried fruit and nut crisps, crisp flatbread, and chunks of dense fig and almond cake are perfect for December. Arrange the cheese on a background of black slate or a weathered cutting board, or place a cutting board in a large wide basket. Arrange smaller wooden plates or decorative bowls on the boards to fill with olives, nuts or to contain runny cheese. Finally, don’t skimp – enjoy and don’t hold back!
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