How do you shake up a classic Italian cheese plate? Introduce it to ingredients from the American Midwest, which is just what we've done here, with help from our partner Kroger. The grocer's new HemisFares™ line imports authentic global ingredients so you can eat the world, wherever you are.
“Can we not make a turkey this year?” I asked my mom while planning Thanksgiving in early November. I’d already gotten out of it once—the year before, we made duck—and I was shooting to forgo birds altogether at this year’s feast. As the family’s resident cook, I’ve been the de facto host for most holidays after returning to the Midwest about a year ago; plus, my family really loves the fact that their only commitment is drinking wine, talking loudly over one another, and washing dishes. (And I love to give them those jobs.)
The plea worked, thankfully, and I set about planning a meal of Italian food, mostly because it’s my favorite comfort food and so much of it is a “leave it and simmer” kind of situation. While most of the menu consisted of homemade pastas and pork, I left the hors d’oeuvres to someone else—the grocery store.
And since I think of Italy as a third home after the Midwest and New York, having lived and visited and worked there, I’ve been struck by the similarities between the Midwest and Italy when it comes to meat, cheese, and preserved bits and bobs, especially in the northern part of the country. German influence gets in there too, with regions of Northern Italy pulling ingredients from its neighbor, and the same is true in southern Indiana where I grew up. (I recently learned my family hails from Bavaria.)
A no-lift, overflowing meat and cheese board is not just a tactic I pull out at the holidays, although it’s very useful when expecting a large party and you’re making multiple courses. (I know this is no secret, but it bears repeating; I’m probably not the only who fusses over making appetizers more complicated than they need to be.)
So for my cheese board, I decided to mash the two up together: There were thin slices of prosciutto fluffed into little mounds, Indiana goat cheese, local apples, olive oil, plump Castelvetrano olives, and pickles on pickles, from carrots to kraut. Not gonna lie, it was kind of the hit of the party, besides all the Barbera and Barolo.
If you want to build your own Mid Western-Italian spread, start with Italian meats like thick-sliced salami, prosciutto, and capicola. Look for Italian and Midwestern cheeses—some of my Italian favorites are Robiola and Piave Vecchio, while some of Midwestern favorites include aged goat cheese and raw cheddar—and then add lots and lots of extras inspired by both places. Pickly things, condiments, fresh fruit, and nuts can help you stretch a board to feed as big a crowd as you have coming. Think extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping; pesto alla Genovese, caponata, spoonfruit, beer mustard, and mostarda for swiping; and everything from Castelvetrano olives to semi-dried cherry tomatoes, pickled radishes and carrots, thinly sliced apples, sauerkraut, and nuts for nibbling.
What Italian or Midwestern ingredients would you add to this meat and cheese board? Let us know in the comments!
We've created the ultimate cheese plate with help from our partner Kroger. With its new line HemisFares™, the celebrated grocer is importing regional specialties from Jamaica, Japan, Spain, and Italy — including many of the ingredients you see here.