Why Hello there, and welcome to Kitchen Castastrophes’s Holiday Special! What does that mean? Good question! We honestly have no idea. Here’s the thing that’s easy to forget: we’re actually a relatively new site, and holidays, by their nature, aren’t something you have to deal with very often. And for the last two years, they’ve been particularly troublesome for me, due to how my family handles them, and how the calendar works.
Now, I mentioned this back in my “Eager for Easter” post, but for both Easter and Christmas, my family just does the entire holiday twice. But I never discussed the REASON For it. (or, rather, I only breezed past it.) See, My mother’s family are mostly based around Salem, Oregon, a town that is about 4 hours’ drive away from our house. While my father’s parents live in the same town we do, about 7 minutes’ drive from our house. The older O’Guins (Old’Guins?) live on a fixed income, so they can’t really afford to drive down, spend the night in a hotel, and buy a bunch of presents for people they’re not technically related to. (And given my grandfather’s general stance on the concept of charity, they have little DESIRE to.) While my mother’s family is simply too large to attempt to wrangle together for a trip of that length: I have 3 aunts on that side, along with 4 cousins, and 6 first-cousins once-removed (which is the technical term for “the children of your first cousins, or their parents, if they are not your aunts/uncles.). That’s an obscene number of people to try and get to travel 4 hours together without a coach and a bus.
I wrote this whole post before remembering that “coach”, in addition to being the adult head of a sport team, is also a term for buses that travel between distant locations.
I literally wrote a double entendre smarter than my ability to get it.
So there’s family close enough that simply excluding them would be rude, but who cannot include each other, for various reasons. But MY family? With only 5 members, and the Shipyard giving my parents enough leave that they often have the entire week from Christmas to New Year’s off, WE can make the trip to and from Salem pretty easily. And thus peace reigned through the households for several years. Until I started a blog, and ran into a scheduling problem: I have two Christmases’ worth of presents, travel, and family time to do in one week at the end of December, which gives me very little time to WRITE.
Complicating the issue is the fact that, since we move forward a day on the calendar every year. (So last Year, Christmas was Monday, but this year, it was Tuesday) this year we hit a really ugly patch: Last year, Christmas was on Monday, so I had 2 days during the week to write this post, (Tuesday and Wednesday) but this year, I only got Wednesday. Normally I’d just say screw it, and not write this post either, but the timing of this year’s holiday season means I won’t be able to do a post for New Year’s, so I felt I owed it to you guys: I can accept having to skip a week, sure, but a week and a HALF? OVER THE LINE, DONNY. MARK IT ZERO.
I always knew we’d revisit The Big Lebowski.
So, what was so important that I COULDN’T WAIT to tell you all about it? Cheese plates. And if that doesn’t sound like it’s really worth the effort, I will slap the heathen lies right out of your mouth. Cheese Plates are a holiday DELIGHT, and one of my favorite forms of festive snacks.
SO LET’S GET TO THE CHEESE, RATHER THAN MY MANY EXCUSES.
A Kind-Of Christmas Tradition
I’ve discussed on the site MULTIPLE times how much my mom and I have been getting into cheeses in the last 3 years. We’re constantly buying up cheap blocks of interesting cheeses at the store, and generally completely forgetting we have them. But for the last few years of holidays with my father’s parents, we’ve been bringing Cheese trays. Last year, and this year in particular we pulled out all the stops, so I figured it would be a nice thing to walk through a bougie O’Guin binge plate.
Now, I talked about Cheese plates two years ago, and I mentioned that a cheese plate of around 4-5 cheeses is perfectly adequate, and I hold to that position. BUT, we’re not AIMING for adequate here. We’re aiming for a show-stopper of a cheese plate that straight up replaces Lunch as a meal for the holidays. So let’s tackle the many malleable milk-made munchies we produced, and the produce we topped them with.
The key to Cheese enjoyment is proper labeling.
The first thing, of course, are the Cheeses themselves. We went with 10 different cheeses this year, all hastily half-labeled by the chicken-scratch sketches that is my hand-writing. Since I suspect that you won’t be able to read it, let me give a translation/rundown: starting from the cheese on the far left, in the foil, and moving in a clockwise spiral: Boursin Garlic and Herb, Irish Cheddar, Red Wax Gouda, Ewephoria, Wensleydale with Cranberries, Delice, Sleeping Beauty, Oregon Blue, then Camp Fire smoked Jack, and Fromager d’Affinois with Garlic and Herbs. I’m not going to cover them all in depth, just point out some high-lights.
The Delice in the top right is Delice de Bourgogne, and it’s a triple-crème (or triple cream) cheese, which is a class of cheese that has, in the last 3 years, really shot up my family’s radar. It’s become something my grandmother directly asks us to bring, and something my mother and I seek out. Triple Cream cheeses have the incredibly high 75% butter fat in solid mixture. This doesn’t ACTUALLY mean they’re 75% fat, as these cheeses are also highly moist. Triple crème cheeses have roughly the same consistency as softened butter, and can be served with a spoon or knife. They’re very rich, silky, and often a little simple in flavor, but very appealing.
In the middle, Ewephoria is perhaps my personal favorite cheese for straight eating. (meaning “eating without cooking, or toppings”. My cheese preference doesn’t change based on my sexual inclinations of the week.) It’s a sheep’s milk gouda, and the only way I can really describe it is “imagine if Parmesan was more like caramel”, which is a garbage description. Luckily, it’s not like I make a living off my ability to write about food…
You Ever eat Sweetmeats For Christmas? Because I’ve had Sweet Meats for Christmas
MOVING ON from that mental alley and the cheese plate itself (while there are other good cheeses on the board, I still have to get all this sorted out in the next two hours so I can pack and sleep before the sun rises) we head into the paired toppings. And we’re stopping first at the meat plate.
And our heart is stopping shortly after.
While this spread may look impressive, my hardly-honest nature compels me to say that both the Italian Meats and the Smoked Salmons were just packs sold at our local Costco. The salmon came in (right to LEFT, to confuse you non-Arab readers) Maple, Original, and Pepper, while the meats were a peppered salami, a normal salami, Coppa (an Italiam Ham) and Proscuitto. My family just likes pairing cheese with cured meats. It’s a thing. Don’t make it weird.
Now, to sweeten the deal, as well as the meats and cheeses, we brought a panoply of honeys!
I told your ass we weren’t aiming for ‘adequate’. DECADENCE is where we’re going.
Two of the honeys here are our go-tos: Mike’s Hot Honey, and the White Gold. Mike’s, as we talked about in an earlier post, is a chile-spiced honey that mixes heat with sweet in a phenomenal way. The White Gold honey is a raw honey: it's unheated, unprocessed, un-anythinged. It’s poured from the comb into jars. It’s as honey as honey can be. The squat little jar beside them is a flavored honey crème, because as Caption Jon implied, if you thought I was going to accept getting only 3 crèmes on a cracker, then you clearly don’t know my love of decadence.
The Salty Sting of Success
Of course, with all these rich flavors, you do need SOMETHING to cut it. And that’s why we had the acids on hand.
Sorry, ‘acidic foods’. We weren’t looking to go the Harvey Dent School of Facial Care.
Pickles, pickled beans, briny capers, and grapes, as well (on the other side of the table) as marinated artichoke hearts, mushrooms, pickled brussel sprouts, and an assortment of olives, all served to round out the offerings.
The fact that I find the pickled brussels sprouts so much more appealing than the kalamata olives here really says something about how weird I am as a person.
Or, more accurately, how much I hate Kalamata olives.
All in all, we had basically everything you could want to put on a cracker available to be eaten. And we even had an array of crackers to go with it! I…didn’t take a picture of the crackers before the final shot, so my apologies that you’ll momentarily have to rely on your imagination. While I love a good Triscuit, our cheese crackers were almost all nut-based this year. We had Raincoast Crisps, a local company carried in Costco and several other vendors, that my mother and I are great fans of. Their crisps have a great dark color, and a very enjoyable half-crunchy, half-chewy texture. The other companies…I sadly didn’t read. One of them is Vinta, I recall from hauling the box. Look, I had a lot on my mind.
And that’s all she wrote.
I ate the whole plate.
Which is a very weak food boast, and a very niche Transformers/Film Criticism reference.
As I said, this decadent array has become our answer to “what do we have for lunch If dinner’s going to be at 3 or 4 in the afternoon?” during the holidays, and it’s quite delightful. We tend to pull it out in the hour or two we have of playing card games or board games before we have to knuckle down and finish dinner, and I’m sure that if you whipped up your own version for, say, a New Year’s Eve party, people would dig in. (I’m telling you, if you hunt down Ewephoria and a triple crème cheese, they’ll be DEVOURED by any respectable party of hungry guests. Probably the triple crème first, but not everyone is as brilliant as me.) This year, we took the time to teach my grandparents the card game Sushi Go, as well as Nate and My’s Go-To Board-Game for Bar Nights, Concept, which is basically just Charades with little pictures.
And that’s part of the greatness of a cheese plate: it’s fancy enough to impress, while low-key and easy to eat. You don’t need both hands, you can drink, play games, and eat, all while sharing this time with family and friends. It’s a win-win. And in the middle of winter, you need all the wins you can get.
MONDAY: NO POST BECAUSE JON WILL STILL BE IN TRANSIT, AND WILL NOT HAVE SEEN HIS COMPUTER FOR 4 DAYS.
NEXT THURSDAY: I DON’T KNOW, MAN, THAT’S LIKE, NEXT YEAR. DO I REALLY NEED TO THINK ABOUT IT NOW?