The temperature soared well past 100 degrees during France's stifling summer heat wave of 2019 as my husband, our three friends and I road tripped from Paris to Lyon for the Women's World Cup.
We were all from Florida, so the heat didn't dampen on our fun in the Burgundian sun, but yearning for shade and beloved air conditioning meant a lot of the French culinary staples — hearty stews with complex gravies, roasted meats with heavy cream sauces — just weren't on the menu.
Instead, we opted for refreshing salads, chilled beef tartare and a lot of charcuterie boards brimming with juicy summer fruits, crunchy vegetables, thinly sliced meats and lighter cheeses. Plus, bottles and bottles of cold rosé.
A year later, at a blazing-hot Memorial Day pool party, I recreated our favorite board from a small cafe along the winery-lined Route des Grands Crus, overflowing with ruby red heirloom tomatoes, pickles, sweet corn kernels, milky burrata and sliced prosciutto and sopressata.
Madeline Kuhn, a research and development specialist and cheesemaker for Roth Cheese says I was on the right track for the perfect summer grazing board. "I'm often tempted to skip cooking a meal in the summer months in favor of no-heat, fresh-but-filling options," she tells Yahoo Life. "A cheese board is perfect to fuel those warm-weather activities. The key is to pack it with crisp produce, the right cheeses and plenty of nutrient-dense accompaniments to make it a meal."
Think fresh, light, spreadable and seasonal
Kuhn says cheese is seasonal, even if we don't think of it that way. Winter cheeses are more dense, fuller-flavored and generally more aged, while the cheeses of summer are younger, fresher and "vivacious" on the palate. For a summer board, "focus on anything spreadable, scoopable, mild and milky," she says. "Any cheese amplifying grassy notes from lush pastures is a good choice."
A chevre — a fresh goat's cheese — is a quintessential inclusion, says Kuhn, noting that she likes to roll hers in fresh chopped herbs and serve it along with milder cow's milk cheeses spiked with dill or jalapenos that work well with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet peppers. Blue cheeses may not be your first thought for summer, but they pair beautifully with stone fruits, melon and strawberries, which Kuhn calls the "jewels" of summer.
Chef Adrianne Calvo, chef-owner of Chef Adrianne's Vineyard Restaurant and Bar in Miami, Fla., says she loves a quick pickle on her summer boards, like carrots or green beans. She also opts for fresh cherries, watermelon — which pairs perfectly with feta — and peaches, plus Marcona almonds and dried mango.
For meats, Evan Topel, a corporate chef for Emmi Roth, says adding local specialty sausages unique to your area of the world can bring a feature element to a summer board. For example, in Wisconsin, they like to add cooked, sliced brat sausages to the board. Calvo agrees, adding spicy capicola and prosciutto to her summer board favorites.
5 tips to keep your board cool — and safe — when temps soar
Serving a charcuterie board outside when the heat index is well above what's comfortable is tricky, but with a little preparation, you can keep your board fresh and delicious for a few hours. Topel offers these tips and tricks for keeping things cool when temps are anything but.
Keep your board indoors right up until serving time to help prevent your cheese from sweating or melting. When you do serve your board, keep it in the shade and out of direct sunlight.
Consider serving on a marble slab, which has a naturally cool temperature. Many retailers sell charcuterie and cheese boards made from marble that won't break the bank.
Use more aged cheeses instead of fresh. Aged cheeses tend to be firmer and hold up to warmer temperatures a bit better.
Serve cheeses as whole, refrigerated blocks or wheels — not cut up — right up until serving time. Then have your guests slice the wedge themselves. A bigger block of cheese will stay cooler longer than thin-cut slices.
Consider putting your charcuterie board on ice. Fill a plastic or metal bin with ice and prop your board on top – just be cautious of ice melting and shifting your board so your meats and cheese don't get wet.
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