At my house, summer in Maine is a revolving door of family, friends, and unexpected guests. And while there is nothing I love more than feeding a house full of hungry people, I also want to take time to enjoy the myriad charms of the Maine coast at its most beautiful.
Recently, I got a call from friends who were passing through on their way to Bar Harbor. They called late in the morning, saying they planned to arrive at dinnertime. It was a gorgeous day – perfect for a kayak and I didn’t want to waste a second of it going to the store.
So before I put my boat in the water, I raided my refrigerator and pantry with the thought of recreating a long lost family favorite, Marinated Cheese. It probably comes as no surprise that I always have a few bars of Cabot Cheddar in my fridge. But for these guests I wanted to do something a bit more creative, elegant, and fun than just cheese and crackers.
Years ago, I had a friend who was born and raised in Georgia. She ran a wildly successful catering business. Her signature was an amazing appetizer that was always a hit, no matter where she served it. My son, at the time a budding five year old foodie, called it Swimming Cheese, because of its fragrant marinade bath. Eventually, everyone was demanding Swimming Cheese for their next event.
While I didn’t have a specific recipe at hand, I remembered enough to improvise on this one. It turned out to be just as lovely as I remembered.
Here’s what I had on hand to get started: a lime, still juicy, but nearing the end of its shelf life, white wine vinegar, olive oil, a small jar of roasted red peppers, some capers, a solitary shallot hiding at the bottom of the onion basket, basil from my garden, and various forms and flavors of The World’s Best Cheddar. It was all I really needed to forge ahead.
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup vinegar (I used white wine)
juice of one lime or lemon
1 shallot, minced (you can use 2 tablespoons of minced onion or a couple of minced scallions)
1/2 of a 4oz. jar of roasted peppers, chopped
2 tbls capers (optional)
1/3 cup basil, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
2 8oz bars of Cabot Cheddar, Montery Jack, Colby Jack, or Muenster
Whisk lime or lemon juice together with vinegar and olive oil. Add shallots, peppers, basil (as well as capers, if you have them) and salt and pepper. Set the marinade aside.
Cut cheese slices about 1/4 inch thick and then cut in half to make bite-sized pieces. To save time and effort, I arranged the slices artfully on a dish, poured the marinade over the cheese, covered the whole thing with plastic wrap, and popped it in the refrigerator. You can marinate the cheese in a plastic storage container and arrange a platter later, if you want.
Let the cheese marinate for as long as possible. Eight hours or overnight is best, but you can get away with as little as four hours if you’re crunched for time.
Preparing the marinade is quick and easy. I used what I had on hand; you should too. You can give this dish a southwest flavor by adding minced garlic and cumin, substituting cilantro for the basil and adding hot peppers. You can also use flavored cheeses. I had half a bar of Cabot Tomato Basil Cheddar and a couple of bags of Serious Snacking bars, one of which was Reduced Fat Habanero Cheddar. This isn’t brain surgery, so use your imagination and what’s handy. It’s pretty hard to make a mistake here, folks.
Just about everyone I know is on a reduced carb diet these days, so I served my cheese platter sans crackers or bread. I put out party picks for the cheese and a jar of my friend Marji’s famous Dilly Beans for a little veggie punctuation. Pairing this summer fare with a bottle of vinho verde completed the offering.
So pretty, so summery, so yummy…everybody in the pool for a swim!