Maggie Shreve has a list of entertaining must-haves: A good candle and music are at the top. “Snacks, for sure,” the brunette adds, glancing up toward the porch’s haint blue ceiling and mentally ticking off requisites. “And a good porch setup.” She proudly motions toward the two swivel armchairs she and husband Edward recently purchased.
“We had a birthday celebration for Edward out here that included homemade cinnamon rolls.” She laughs, having spied her groom peeking through the dining room’s wavy glass windowpanes, just one of the home’s charming original features. “It was a really great morning.”
The large, elevated outdoor living area is a big part of what drew the newlyweds, both St. Paul’s and Auburn University grads, to their Midtown home, just around the corner from Murphy High School. It’s a prime people-watching perch, especially during blue-skied afternoons like today.
“We go on neighborhood walks all the time,” Shreve says, rising, then holding out an imaginary glass. “We go on wine walks when it’s warmer.” Her beverage of choice is a light, effervescent Vinho Verde, which boasts hints of lemonade, melon, berries and grapefruit. “It’s the perfect chilling-outside wine.” But for now, she’s focused on heading inside, where a freshly prepared charcuterie spread awaits.
The 1940s Craftsman bungalow is decorated in shades of nudes and blues, accentuated with streaks of gold. Cushy seating beckons guests into the den, but the smell of freshly brewed coffee and roasted nuts wafting from the dining room trumps. Built-in cabinets flank the antique dining table, decorated with silver and porcelain and just-picked camellias. Late-afternoon sun drapes the north wall on which two framed menus hang, serving as a reminder of the room’s purpose, no doubt.
“I begged my mom to let me have those,” Shreve says of the decades-old bills of fare from prestigious Restaurant Paul Bocuse. “My parents lived in France during the early ‘90s; that’s when my mom really learned to expand her palate.” A trait she carried back to the States and passed on to her children.
As a young foodie, Shreve remembers requesting lamb chops for her birthday party — as a 7-year-old. “And my mom recently reminded me of a field trip I went on in the 6th grade to North Carolina.” She zests lemon onto a block of feta while she talks. “We visited Carl Sandburg’s house and saw the dairy goats. I called my mom that night and told her they made goat milk chocolate!”
Growing up in a family of gastronomes has its perks. “We’ve always loved food, which is good because I’m always hungry.” She laughs and pops a pecan into her mouth. “Food has been central to get-togethers for as long as I can remember. My mom hosted a lot when I was growing up. Even now, we have Sunday dinners every week at my parents’ house.”
And Shreve hosts now, too. Her hospitality comes easily, both a tribute to her mom and her years of work at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee.
“My cousin took a trip to Blackberry and told me I needed to visit.” Her eyes glisten as she recalls the Smoky Mountain resort. “When I got there, I said, ‘This is everything I’ve ever dreamed of.’ It combines luxury, hospitality and fine dining.” All skills she garnered and brought back home to Mobile.
Now in her dining room, she prepares for an early evening of small bites and wine with friends. Shreve, a Level 1 in the Court of Master Sommeliers, thoughtfully selects three bottles of vino, each of which complement the assortment of presented meats and cheeses. Edward, having finished work for the day, comes downstairs and jokingly asks, “What did you save me?”
Shreve smiles. “I like to make sure people are well-fed.” And she’s doing it in more ways than one. In addition to hosting parties, she also curates individualized charcuterie boxes for friends and family, each packed with meats, cheeses, fruits, jams, nuts and honey. It’s a hobby she hopes to turn into a business one day.
“I like the idea of grab-and-go,” Shreve says, showing off a cardboard container she intends to pack and send home with guests tonight. “Boxes encourage people to get outside and enjoy. I like to go to local breweries and take a box with me; I just snack right out of it.”
Shreve checks the temperature of the wine chiller, then glances out the plantation shutters at approaching headlights. She takes one last glance at the spread on the table before making her way to the door to greet her guests. “Always have something on hand,” Shreve says with a wink. “It’s Southern hospitality.”
Tips for Serving a Great Charcuterie Board
TIME TO BOARD
Maggie Shreve shares a few things that make an appearance on all of her charcuterie boards.
Feta: Made from sheep’s milk, this soft cheese is tangy and salty. Shreve adds additional flavor by topping it with lemon zest and fresh-cracked pepper.
Salami: Depending on which cured sausage link you choose, the taste can range from sweet and spicy to hot and savory. Shreve loves sopressata, an Italian dry salami that can combine sweet, salty or spicy notes.
Brie: Perhaps the best-known French cheese, this cow’s milk selection boasts a creamy, mild and buttery taste.
Prosciutto: A sweet and delicate unsmoked, uncooked dry-cured ham.
Green Hill: Made in Thomasville, Georgia, this double-cream cow’s milk cheese is silky and buttery.
BellaVitano: A creamy, nutty and fruity-flavored cow’s milk cheese wrapped in a wine-soaked rind.
Muddy Pond Sorghum: Pure sorghum syrup with an earthy, smoky flavor. It’s delicious caramelized on nuts or drizzled over soft cheeses.
HER PRO TIPS
Keep these tips in mind when planning your smorgasbord, and it will surely be a crowd-pleaser.
Set it Out
Remove cheeses from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving. You don’t want the cheese to be rock hard, and flavors tend to develop more at room temperature.
Mix it Up
Texture is key, both visually and for the palate. Balance salty and crumbly cheeses with smooth and creamy ones. Balance soft breads with crisp crackers.
Cut the Cheese
There’s a correct way to do it: Cube harder varieties and uniformly slice softer ones, such as brie. Guests should slice their own very-soft cheeses, like goat cheese.
A Taste of Home
Use as many local meats, cheeses, honey and jellies as you can find, keeping in mind farmers markets and the shop-local section in grocery stores.
Cover it Up
Whether you’re using a silver tray, wooden board or melamine platter, fill it up, covering as much of the dish as possible, making for a visually lush offering.
A monotone cheese and meat board is drab. Bring it to life with colorful fruits, edible flowers and fresh herbs such as rosemary, mint and thyme.
These sweet and salty nuts deserve a spot on your charcuterie board. Shreve makes sure to always have Muddy Pond Sorghum on hand, available at Whole Foods. She fell in love with the Tennessee-based brand while working at Blackberry Farm.
2 cups raw pecans
2 tablespoons agave
3 tablespoons sorghum syrup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon sea salt
In a large mixing bowl, add all ingredients except sea salt. Stir pecans until they are coated with the syrup mixture. Spread pecans onto a baking sheet and bake at 325 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven. While pecans are still warm, sprinkle with sea salt. Makes 2 cups
A Level 1 Sommelier, Shreve always has the perfect bottle on hand. Her rule of thumb: You want your wine to be sweeter than what you’re eating.
Proa Brut Cava: Sparkling wine from Spain, with aromas of sweet pineapple and apple.
Pair with: Fatty cheeses like brie
Las Martas Cervera de la Canada 2019: A heavy red wine from Spain, with earthy notes and hints of blueberry, strawberry and plum.
Pair with: Peppered salami and BellaVitano cheese.
Post Haste Albarino: Made from white grapes grown in Spain and Portugal, it offers notes of citrus blossom and tart orchard fruits.
Pair with: Salty meats and cheeses, like feta, soprassata and prosciutto.