• by Leah Mojer •
Daffodils are precious to islanders and seasonal residents. For the former, they signify the awakening of an otherwise harsh and beaten winter landscape. Their arrival seems to say, “we are out of the woods of winter and into the shining sun that is spring, summer, and fall.” For the islands long time visitors, the Nantucket Daffodil Festival signifies the commencement of all the joyous happenings to come. Antique roadsters roll off the ferry, yellow cashmere sweaters and straw hats disappear from downtown shops. Artisanal cheeses, cured meats, and bottles of wine are procured by the basketful for the picnics to come. Here, we will talk a bit about these three essential parts to a great picnic and how to incorporate them with style.
Cheeses come in such a vast array of flavors and textures it’s difficult to know where to begin. My instinct is to tell you to choose everything your heart desires, but when planning for transportation of cheese, one must think ahead. Choose cheeses that are firmer in style; think aged Goudas, aged sheep’s milk cheeses such as manchego, and aged cheddars. When it comest to our creamy friends like brie and fresh chevre, the strategy is choose ones that come individually packaged so they will stay nice and intact until you settle into your final picnic spot. Vermont Butter and Cheese Co cheeses have a variety of beautiful goat and cow’s milk cheeses packaged in their own little wooden boxes. With a little planning, your cheese board will look as beautiful as ever right out of the picnic basket.
When it comes to cured meats, nothing beats gorgeous paper-thin slices of prosicutto, serrano, coppa, or lonzino. For picnicking, however, these are not the best choices, as they will get jostled in transportation and end up smashed, tearing off the their deli paper in messy shreds. Hard salamis and pates are better picnic choices. The salami can be cut ahead of time and packed up in a box, ready to be neatly arranged on site. Choose pates which are individually potted, such as the Foie Gras Mousse from Trois Petite Cochons Charcuterie Company, whose products are high-quality and widely available. Accompany your cheeses and meats with an array of olives, cornichons, marcona almonds, and various jams and mustards. A fresh baguette, sliced just before transport will round out the picnic.
There are a wide variety of items to snack on during picnics. From stinky blue cheeses and bread with mustard, to spicy salami and fruit and nuts. What does one choose to drink with all these delightful foods?
If you can’t decide between red or white, choose acidity as your guide. Wines with acidity, (think french sancerre for example,) have palate cleansing abilities unlike any other wines. Wines with high acidity keep food exciting bite after bite, reviving the palate and awakening the senses. Here are some of my favorite picnic wines to try.
Bailly La Pierre Cremant de Bourgogne — This little French sparkler knows no enemy in the food world. It’s clean lemony bubbles and creamy body are a match made in heaven for triple cream cheeses, salty snacks like marcona almonds, and creamy pates.
Cooper Hill Pinot Gris — I just love everything about this wine by Cooper Mountain in Oregon. It’s organically produced, it’s affordable and absurdly refreshing. It’s a bit richer on the palate but still has laser acidity to complement the richest of cheeses and pates.
Domaine de Pepiere “La Pepie” Cabernet Franc — This wine is made by the famed muscadet producer Marc Olivier. Light and playful with a strong minerality that gives the sense of effervescence. Juicy, tart and dry on the finish, I love this wine with salami, aged cheeses and olives. The label is just as playful as the wine itself and just perfect for a lighthearted meal out doors.
One of my favorite things to have on hand, this simple onion confit is great with cheese, mixed into mayo or mustard or cream cheese for sandwiches.
- 4 large Yellow Onions, finely julienned lengthwise through the root.(It’s important to use that technique!)
- 2 Cups Cane Sugar
- 1 Tbl Balsamic or Sherry Vinegar
- Salt to taste
- In a large heavy sauce pot over medium heat, melt sugar. Keep a close eye on what’s happening, stirring with a wooden spoon to melt the sugar evenly.
- When melted, pour in your onions. The whole thing should sizzle and be a bit messy looking—this is normal! Turn heat down and cook the onions at least 1 hour, until very deep brown and the whole thing is a thick syrupy consistency. Add a little water if things look dry too quickly in the cooking process. Add salt and vinegar, and reduce until you can scrape a wooden spoon across the pan and the line stays dry.
- Put into a mason jar and seal. The confit will keep for weeks in the fridge.
Roasted Garlic Mustard
Nothing is more versatile than mustard as a condiment. For this we add garlic for body and real maple syrup for sweetness. Ain’t nothing this mustard won’t improve! Try with country pate or washed rind cheeses.
- Wrap 8 cloves garlic in foil; roast 30 minutes at 400 degrees F.
- Squeeze garlic out of its skin and puree with 1/2 cup Dijon mustard, 1/3 cup maple syrup, and salt and pepper. Keep refrigerated for up to two weeks.
I came across this ingenious accompaniment for cheese this past winter in Boston. It’s so delicious and deceptively simple, I want to try one hundred different kinds of infusions! Try it with a piquant blue cheese or drizzled over burrata cheese and crostini.
- 1 C high-quality honey
- 2 T red pepper flakes, or other favorite dried chili
- 1 t apple cider vinegar
- Combine ingredients in a small sauce pan and warm over very low heat for 15 minutes. Be very careful not to let the honey get too hot—you wnat it just hot enough to let the chilis warm and infuse their spice.
Crisp Rosemary Flatbread
No cheese and wine picnic is complete without a delicious vessel for scooping and snacking. These crackers do just the trick. Try swapping the rosemary for other herbs, such as thyme or tarragon, or punch it up with black pepper or other spices.
- 1-3/4 C unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 T chopped fresh rosemary plus 2 (6-inch) sprigs
- 1 t baking powder
- 3/4 t salt
- 1/2 C water
- 1/3 C olive oil plus more for brushing
- Flaky sea salt such as Maldon
- Preheat oven to 450°F with a heavy baking sheet on rack in middle.
- Stir together flour, chopped rosemary, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in center, then add water and oil and gradually stir into flour with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. Knead dough gently on a work surface 4 or 5 times until it comes together. For an easier time rolling out, let the dough rest 10 minutes.
- Divide dough into 3 pieces and roll out 1 piece (keep remaining pieces covered with plastic wrap) on a sheet of parchment paper into a 10-inch round (shape can be rustic; dough should be thin).
- Lightly brush top with additional oil and scatter small clusters of rosemary leaves on top, pressing in slightly. Sprinkle with sea salt. Slide round (still on parchment) onto preheated baking sheet and bake until pale golden and browned in spots, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer flatbread (discard parchment) to a rack to cool, then make 2 more rounds (1 at a time) on fresh parchment (do not oil or salt until just before baking). Break into big pieces.
Flatbread can be made 2 days ahead and cooled completely, then kept in an airtight container at room temperature.