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Be kind and above all else, eat cheese

By Paul Suplee, MBA, CEC, PC-3

In the age of pandemic, what have we come to learn? 

One thing for sure is that we have learned a new manner in which to communicate our differences. 

The channels through which we can immediately spew our disdain on anyone who disagrees with us have become a demise of sorts, at least to me.

And that is a shame. Who would have ever thought that a civil war could be fought with a keyboard and the misguided notion that we are at once doctors, nurses, epidemiologists and then [fill in your actual profession here].

Alas, the time is here as we enter Phase 3 to start reconnecting with our loved ones, albeit with an elbow bump and a glass of cheap wine. At this point, it will just be nice to see our friends again. 

As we exit summer (thank goodness, as it represented so much loss and business turmoil for so many around us), we find ourselves thrusted into the season of parties, get-togethers and frivolity. 

Ah, frivolity and frolicking. Truly two of life’s greatest states of emotion and being. 

This is our season. As we prepare our houses for guests, in anticipation of this dreaded beast turning tail and running, we still need to take a precaution or two. 

I mean, why not be safe and practical in the moment?

When the time comes for a holiday party, make sure you have good cheeses, and, no, they do not have those in grocery stores. You have to search them out. 

But when you have them, you can build a cheese tray as well as anyone out there. With a simple combination of something aged, blue, goat and new (but not American cheese … I mean, that’s as new as you can get), you can set the stage for any kind of evening.

But, if you end up having a fair amount of people, stay away from them serving themselves. Offer them small plates, or serve them yourselves. 

I think that we would all be better if we sat back and served our friends once in a while. Maybe I’m wrong, but I do believe this.

So frolic, be kind and above all else, eat cheese. And good cheese at that. And the more you build these trays,  the more you will come to understand how they change at every iteration. They are a wondrous thing. 

Cheese Tray, COVID-Style
serves 10

30 oz. High-quality cheese, assorted (see above)
1 c. Candied nuts (recipe follows)
1/2 c. Pickled red onions (recipe follows)
1/4 c. Pickled mustard seeds (recipe follows)
Pickled vegetables, as needed
Sweet assorted jams & preserves, as needed
Roasted Marcona almonds, as needed
Toast points and crackers, as needed
Assorted fruit, as needed
Olives and Peppedews (optional)

When you are building a cheese tray, just keep in mind that certain cheeses have certain nuances that must be complemented and contrasted. For example, a sour, sharp cheese such as Roquefort does well with sweet-poached pear or fruit. A sweet preserve is also a nice contrast.

Candied Nuts
makes about 1 quart

3 1/2 c. Pecans
1/3 c. Melted margarine
1/4 c. Granulated sugar
1/2 c. Brown sugar

Soak the nuts in cool water for about 15 minutes and then drain.

Mix the remaining ingredients and toss it together with the nuts.

 Spread the nuts onto a silpat (silicone non-stick baking mat), a well-sprayed pan (that’s what I do) or a pan lined with parchment paper.

Bake at 375-ish depending on the oven

Turn with a spatula every few minutes to ensure that the outer nuts do not burn.

They will feel soft, so go by the color. When they have a nice, dark color (think brittle), pull them and let them cool. If they are crunchy, they’re good. If not, they need another go in the oven. Just don’t forget about them.

Pickled Red Onions
makes 1 cup

1 medium red onion, julienne
1 c. Red wine vinegar
1 c. Granulated sugar

Rinse onions in cold water 2 or 3 times to rid them of any pesky gases.

Bring sugar and vinegar to a boil, pour over onions, and immediately place them in refrigerator.

Allow to cool and serve. They will keep in there beyond the nuclear holocaust. I think. Don’t quote me on that.

Pickled Mustard Seeds
Makes about 1 cup

1 c. Yellow mustard seeds
1 c. Champagne vinegar
1 c. Granulated sugar

Pay attention! Do not go to step 2, yet!

OK, now you’re at step 2, and that’s fine. This trick works with making garlic puree as well, but that is for another day. Cover the mustard seeds with cold water in a sauce pan.

Bring to a high simmer.

Immediately strain and return to pan, covering it back up with cold water. It must be cold.

DO this about 6-8 times so as to remove the tannins or whatever that nasty, bitter compound is. Just do it.

If you can bite into one and it starts to give that caviar “pop” and there is no trace of bitter, strain and this time cover with vinegar and sugar.

Bring to a high simmer and refrigerate immediately.

Store in an airtight container, and reference step 3 above if you are curious as to how long these will last in the icebox.

— Paul G. Suplee is an Associate Professor
of Culinary Arts at Wor-Wic Community  College.
Find his ePortfolio at