Summertime afternoons and the great outdoors make the perfect backdrop for celebrating life. Whether lounging on your patio deck, grassy rolling hills under the parks shady tree, or the with the wind in your sails, these tasty creations pair perfectly with your favorite wine.

“Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.”

Anthony Bourdain

Caprese Salad

This is a versatile salad. The classic version  includes mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, fresh basil and a drizzling of a balsamic reduction. I find the basil leaves always find a new home in my teeth, so I prefer using a basil pesto instead of the basil leaves. If you are looking for finger foods, then use bamboo skewers to tread cherry tomatoes, small chunks of mozzarella and then baste the skewers with a good quality pesto sauce. A fun twist is to add either prosciutto or dry Italian salami slices to the kabobs. These can easily be made ahead, packaged and served on your picnic.

Honeydew Melon Prosciutto

The juicy sweetness of the melons is a  perfect match with the salty firm texture of the prosciutto. Remember, you can cut them  into smaller pieces, wrapped and use toothpicks to secure prosciutto.

Anti-pasta Platter

An anti-pasta platter can be anything you like. Traditionally, olives, cheese, meat, nuts, fruit and cooked or brined vegetables. The pictured salami rolls filled with goat cheese is very easy to do. Get either whipped cream cheese or goat cheese. Fill a zip lock or sandwich bag with the cheese and seal. Cut a tiny hole in one of the bottom ends or place a star piping tip in the hole (before filling with cheese) and now just squeeze into the pre-rolled salami. Use  a dollop of cheese as glue to hold the roll tight. As a variation, you can also fill cherry tomatoes with the cheese. Just cut off the top of the tomato, scoop out the inside and fill with the cheese. My personal favorite to add is figs, either plain or filled with Blue cheese. This is a great addition if you are enjoying a hearty red wine. Have fun and be creative!

Cheese selection (Freepix image)

Cheese Boards

The number of cheeses to choose from can be overwhelming, so start by organizing the array. Categorize cheeses by texture — aged, soft, firm, or blue — and by the type of milk — cow’s milk, goat’s milk, or sheep’s milk — used to create them. Then pick a wedge of cheese from each to get the most crowd-pleasing range that offers appearance and flavor. To ensure portioning perfection, plan on buying 3 to 4ounces of cheese per guest.


Turn an ordinary cheese display into an extraordinary one, accompany it with a few perfect pairings.It is always nice to have one jarred or homemade condiments such as fresh honeycomb, a sweet preserve, tart chutney, tomato relish, or spicy mustard. Add Chipotle and Rosemary Roasted Nuts, recipe below, for that pop of both flavor and sweet salty crunchy bites.

On top of that, offer fresh or dried fruits, and olives. Dried apricots, pears, and tart cherries are all dependable and delicious, and dates—especially the honey and Halawi varieties—are a beautiful cheese board addition. They are the ideal size, and they are like soft little caramels when you pop them into your mouth.

You can also offer marinated artichoke hearts, slow-roasted tomatoes, or roasted peppers for more of a Mediterranean feel.

Completed cheese paltter sample ( pinterest image)

These are a few never-fail combinations, based on particular cheeses:

  • Blue Cheese: Honeycomb, Le Conte pear, and caramelized onion jam
  • Triple Cream: Fig spread and Marcona almonds
  • Cheddar: Tart cherry spread, Honeycrisp apple, and salted pistachios
  • Chèvre: Sun-dried tomato tapenade and marinated olives.

Cheese should never be presented right out of the refrigerator – 30 minutes to an hour is a reasonable amount of time to allow your cheese selections to come to the proper temperature.

When it comes to serving vessels, get creative because anything goes. You can try things like marble, slate, wood slabs, rustic cutting boards; or even cake pedestals. Top off your display with crostini or crackers, and don’t be surprised quickly it disappears!

Wine Pairing Suggestions

  • Bloomy and soft, like Brie or Tallegio. These are best served with sparkling wines, Pinot Grigio or Dry Gewurztraminer. Keep these wines chilled and they will offer a fantastic counterpoint to several varieties of soft cheese.
  • Hard Cheeses, like pecorino Romano, Cheddar, or Gouda. These are often paired with a variety of wines, from Sauvignon Blanc to darker reds and Pinot Noir. Heavier wines tend to manage better the robust flavors of hard cheese.
  • Blue Cheeses, like Gorgonzola or Stilton. These are frequently paired with Rieslings or Port wines. These often salty and pungent cheeses are best partnered with a bottle of wine that has a full body, like a Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon or Petit Sirah. Serve the wine at 60 degrees for best results.
  • Fresh Cheeses, like Feta, Mozzarella, or Goat cheese. These are typically not aged and are easily spreadable. Sauvignon Blanc or any other white wine pairs masterfully with fresh cheeses. Sparkling wines can also partner with any of the cheeses listed above.

Shopping list:

  • fresh bread, crostini, crackers or bread sticks
  • thinly sliced deli meat (s) prosciutto, salami, or honey baked ham,
  • cheese ( 1 hard, 1 soft, 1 sheep/goat)
  • 3 condiments ( sweet/tangy cranberry, spicy mustard, fig spread, tomato tapenade, balsamic reduction, almonds, pine nuts, pate, olives, asparagus spears, dried fruit)
  • basil pesto,
  • tomatoes, if making the Caprese salad
  • fresh melons
  • fresh grapes, raspberries or strawberries, for color and juiciness
A beautiful bottle of wine or two


Chipotle and Rosemary Roasted Nuts

Extra virgin olive oil

3 cups whole roasted unsalted cashews 

2 cups whole walnut halves

2 cups whole pecan halves 

1/2 cup whole almonds 

1/3 cup pure maple syrup

1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

2 teaspoons ground chipotle powder

4 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves, divided

Kosher salt


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Brush a sheet pan generously with olive oil. Combine the cashews, walnuts, pecans, almonds, 2 tablespoons of the oil, the maple syrup, brown sugar, orange juice, and chipotle powder on the sheet pan. Toss to coat the nuts evenly.  Add 2 tablespoons of the rosemary and 2 teaspoons of salt and toss again.

Spread the nuts in one layer. Roast the nuts for 25 minutes, stirring twice with a large metal spatula until the nuts are glazed and golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with 2 more teaspoons of salt and the remaining 2 tablespoons of rosemary.

Toss well and set aside at room temperature, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking as they cool. Taste for seasoning. Serve warm or cool completely and store in airtight containers at room temperature.


written by Shelley Pittman

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