Often at home, I like to gather a group of friends without the trouble of designing a menu, cooking and then cleaning up. I want the event to be focused on the quality of conversation enhanced with satisfying wine and finger foods. Therefore rather than just serving wine and cheese, I make a quick stop at local specialty market such as Bristol Farms or Trader Joes and select a variety of cheeses (such as parmesan, manchego), cold cuts (such as aged salami, prosciutto), olive tapenade, sun dried tomato jam, baguette, and pair it with a couple of bottles of my favorite Italian or Spanish wines. Many specialty markets focus on the ease of providing their customers with a one stop shop that offers them an exquisite selection of these ingredients.
I simply take one or two (depending on the number of guests and ingredients) butcher’s block or wooden cutting board and decorate it with my ingredients. I put out small plates, wine glasses, and perhaps some fruits (such as figs, berries and grapes) and allow my guests to serve themselves. You can be creative and use a variety of cheeses, cured meats, bread, and wine to make it suitable for your guests. Everyone serves themselves; clean up is easy; and hopefully everyone feels satisfied with the simplicity of the evening, great conversation, and a little buzzed!
Many Italian restaurants serve their appetizers in this fashion and don’t have it listed on the menu. This is also a great way to enjoy a bottle of wine with your friends at the bar. Ask for it the next time you are at an Italian restaurant that serves cheese and cured meats. I found this the last time I was in Carmel dining at Lucas with my friends.