I am often asked for my recipe for lobster rolls and, I have to say, mine is fairly basic. I don’t mess with a good thing by adding any wonky or unusual ingredients. I want the lobster to be the star and nothing to interfere with it. I go with the basics – lobster meat, celery, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, salad dressing or mayonnaise, and salt and pepper. Sometimes, I will add a finely chopped green onion to the filling but that’s about it.
Our fall this year has simply been fabulous. Uncharacteristically for the Island this time of the year, there have been days this fall where we were still able to dine on the front verandah and today was one of those days. This will probably be the last “outdoors” dinner this fall. I thought you might like to take a little peek at the table.
Charcuterie, cheese, and fruit trays (or a combination of all three) are common for entertaining. They are relatively quick and easy to prepare, plate well, are attractive and appetizing, and they are tasty, too.
These trays, or boards, can be used for a wide variety and style of events – entertaining friends at home, picnics, potlucks, and just about any kind of get-together. You can check out a couple of picnics in which I have used combination charcuterie-cheese-fruit boards, ranging from the very simple version (click here) to the more elaborate (click here).
These kinds of boards can also be used as an appetizer or starter to a meal which is how I am using them today. Sometimes, I’ll prepare a communal tray and set it in the middle of the table where it doubles as a centerpiece. Other times, I’ll prepare individual boards for each guest as I have done here today.
Before I explain what is on the individual charcuterie-cheese-fruit boards, let’s construct the tablesetting design, starting with the blank canvas – the tablecloth.
Even though this table is set for a casual get-together on the front verandah, I’ve still opted to use my favorite blank canvas – the white tablecloth. White is my “go-to” for many of my tablescapes because I like the look of clean, simple white table linen – it’s always in style and food and other elements in the setting look exceptionally good against a blank white canvas. I also think white linen lends an air of sophistication to any tablescape. The tablecloth I have used here is a vintage Irish linen cloth but any good quality white cloth or tablecloth will do…just make sure it is pressed, free of wrinkles, and doesn’t sport any stains that could suggest to guests that it has not been laundered since its last use.
I always recommend good quality dinner-size napkins be in the host’s or hostess’ linen drawer. Just like white tablecloths, they go with anything and always look crisp and chic. I’ve kept their positioning very simple on this table, simply folding them and placing them, unobtrusively, under the forks. This is intentional to maintain the casual ambiance of the table.
I have owned the ikebana (seen in photograph below) handmade by PEI potter, Peter Jansons, of the Dunes Studio Gallery and Café in Brackley Beach for a very long time. Peter is well-known for these ikebanas which he produces in various colors, sizes, and shapes.
Fitted with a floral frog, the ikebana is super easy to work with and an attractive contemporary-style floral arrangement is possible with any flowers and with little to no flower arranging abilities.
The flowers in this simple arrangement were gathered from our flower and herb beds, nothing too fussy. There is no need to spend a fortune on flowers for centerpieces; sometimes, nothing more is needed than what can be found in one’s own backyard!
For the main meal, I’m using my basic white dinnerware. But, what I’m focusing on for this posting are the very basic, simple, small wooden breadboards for the starter course – the charcuterie/cheese boards. Plates can, of course, be used for this part of the meal but, for presentation purposes, the wood boards lend a more casual, rustic, and interesting look to the table. The boards I am using are inexpensive and are proportionally sized to fit within each placesetting space.
I tend to prefer good quality basic flatware, not overdone with design. Unless you wish to spend a lot on flatware and have multiple sets, choose a plain pattern that works equally well with casual and more formal tablesettings.
I’ve mixed my antique water glasses with plain wine glasses. The cut glass in the water glasses will give some sparkle to this outside tablesetting as the sun hits it. The plain wine glasses are in keeping with the casual “bistro” style dining look I am using. The plain wine glasses will also allow the color and clarity of the wine to show well.
I have added a large water pitcher to the table. Apart from being functional, I like the design of the pitcher and it is in keeping with the casual dining look of this setting.
A box of locally-grown plums from Arlington Orchards rounds out the look of the tablesetting. I like to include edible props in my tablescapes, especially when they are in season and are in keeping with the theme of the meal.
What’s on the Boards?
As mentioned earlier, I’ve opted to prepare separate boards for each guest in lieu of preparing one board and placing it in the middle of the table (which would also work). The benefit of doing individual boards is that each board can be tailored to each guest’s personal food preferences or dietary needs. For example, if one guest likes mild meats and another prefers spicier meats, their boards can be custom-prepared with that in mind. Likewise, if someone has gluten-free requirements, there is less chance of cross-contamination if that individual’s board is prepared separately. A sign of a good host or hostess is one who is aware of guests’ dietary needs/preferences and accommodates them. This extra touch of thoughtfulness is always appreciated by guests, especially those with dietary restrictions.
I also think it makes each guest feel more special if they sit down at the table and have a lovely individual charcuterie/cheese board set in front of them.
We grow a lot of herbs and I make good use of them in multiple ways. Today, I have included them on the boards in these adorable small bottles of high quality dipping olive oil. The herbs infuse the oil and they also add an element of interest to a simple little bottle of oil. The small white dishes under the olive oil bottles are, of course, for the oil to allow for easy dipping of the bread.
I often make my baguettes in small individual sizes because they are perfect for these types of occasions. In keeping with the rustic look, I’ve wrapped the small baguettes in pieces of jute tied with chives and garnished with a fresh sprig of thyme. They dress up the boards!
I have opted to go with two nibbling cheeses – a good quality Havarti and a really interesting mosaic-patterned cheddar from Ireland. I always try to find at least one kind of unique cheese to include on my boards and this gourmet white cheddar cheese produced by Cahill’s Farm in Limerick certainly creates a statement on the board. This is a mild cheese made with Guinness-brewer porter and covered with a brown wax coating.
The choice of meats for the board does not have to be exclusive. Local delicatessens offer lots of options in this regard. Generally, for these boards used as appetizers, include two to three kinds of meats.
Everything is in the details. Adding a few almonds add variety, interest, color, and texture to the boards.
The black cherries contribute color and shape to the board and are a great way to finish off the starter course.
My wine selection for this course of the meal comes from Wheatley River, PEI. A new meadery opened in PEI in summer 2017 and it produces several kinds of mead made with fermented honey. You can click here to read my story on this new meadery.
I have chosen to pair the Island Honey Wine Company’s Wildflower Honey Mead with this starter course.
So, there you have it! Stylish little boards that make a great starter course and are sure to be conversation pieces to the start of a leisurely bistro-style dinner. Bon Appétit!
In the small rural community of Wheatley River, not far from Hunter River in central PEI, the Island Honey Wine Company meadery produces unique wines made with fermented honey, otherwise known as “mead”.
Charles and Laura Lipnicki opened the doors to their meadery on July 7, 2017. The couple had vacationed on the Island a few years earlier, fell in love with it and its people, and decided they wanted to become Islanders too, so five years ago, they moved to PEI, first to North Rustico then later settling on to the farm in Wheatley River.
Charles had been making wine as a hobby for 25 years and always had a fascination with yeast. Laura has a love of lavender and, having seen fields of lavender in Provence, wanted to have her own lavender field. Opportunity presented itself for location amidst the gentle rolling hills in Wheatley River and Laura now has that beautiful field of 1500 lavender plants and Charles has a new career in winemaking which, interestingly enough, merges with the lavender from the couple’s field, wildflowers, and fruits grown on the farm.
In addition to the meadery itself, the couple operates a small certified organic farm called “La Serena” where they have six acres of fruit production that include hascaps, elderberries, and apples and they also raise some sheep, hens, and ducks.
Charles says he started the meadery because he likes making “a value-added product that originates with products produced on the farm, products like honey, lavender, and fruits such as haskaps”.
Now, I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of flavor of mead. I say this because, several years ago, I was served a glass of mead in a castle in Ireland and, well, the drink was not to my liking. However, I went on my visit to Island Honey Wine meadery with an open mind and I was more than pleasantly surprised. The honey wine from the Island meadery is quite lovely.
The Island Honey Wine Company is currently producing four different kinds of meads for sale – lavender, wildflower, haskap, and nectar sweet dessert wine. The products are presently sold only onsite at the meadery but Charles says they will soon be carried by the PEI Liquor Commission in their retail outlets.
Of the four meads, I asked Charles which is the most popular. He says the Wildflower mead is most popular and he believes this is because a glass of this mead takes one on a journey as flavor notes can be found in each taste based on the many different wildflowers the honeybees have visited which transfers into the flavor of the honey they produce. The wildflower wine is the most food-friendly and versatile of the three meads and I’ll talk a bit more about what that means later.
The quality of the mead produced at the Island Honey Wine Company has recently been validated through the winning of medals at an International Wine competition in Virginia especially for non-grape wines. The Nectar Sweet wine, with its sweet and lingering taste, secured a silver medal both the Wildflower and Haskap wines attained bronze medals. I think, once you sample their honey-based wines, you’ll understand why the wines have garnered these awards.
Honey, a fermentable sugar, is the base for all the meads and only raw honey is used. While the meadery has some beehives on the farm, they don’t have enough for adequate supply for the mead making. Therefore, they source honey from other local producers. Most of the honey wine is produced in the winter months. According to Charles, the process for making honey-based mead is not a lot different from making traditional grape-based wines and the honey mead will take about 2½ – 3 months fermentation.
Charles says one of his greatest satisfactions of making mead is seeing how people enjoy something that started just as an idea and that turned into a liquid to be enjoyed. Each of the honey wines has its own benefits and uses for certain times and, as Charles says, “each one is a snapshot in time and place with regards to honey because of the different flowers the bees visit“.
“each one is a snapshot in time and place with regards to honey because of the different flowers the bees visit”
Wildflower – With the broadest notes, this is the most food-friendly of the three meads. Pair this honey wine with poultry dishes, cheese, with desserts such as apple pie, or enjoy as a sipping wine after a day at the beach.
Lavender – This one-of-a-kind mead lends itself to saltier foods. This honey wine is a lovely accompaniment to PEI lobster, brook trout, sharp cheeses, and desserts like walnut baklava. It also pairs particularly well with charcuterie trays. Charles says this is a unique and intimate wine reminiscent of the intimate relationship the bees share with the lavender flowers. This is a versatile wine to be shared with good company or simply enjoyed solo with a good book.
Nectar Sweet – Classed as a dessert wine, Nectar Sweet pairs well with Brie cheese, dairy desserts like cheesecakes, crème brulée, and German chocolate cakes and caramel desserts.
You will also find some local artwork in the meadery’s tasting room along with several lavender products including locally-made lavender shortbread, soap, and similar items.
Product tasting is available onsite in the newly-constructed meadery. The wooden tasting bar is made from repurposed wood that came from one of the large old elm trees that had to be removed from the city of Charlottetown.
The Island Honey Wine Company’s meadery is located at 820 Millboro Road in Wheatley River, in central PEI. For hours of operation and more information, visit their website at https://www.islandhoneywine.ca/