Memorial Day marks the begin­ning of a mag­ical North Shore summer jam-packed with beach days, bar­be­ques, wine on the deck, and cruises on the boat. It’s a time of get-togethers galore and fre­quent spur of the moment enter­taining. This summer will be better than the last, how­ever. Because this summer, with my help, you are going to ele­vate your snack game and impress even last-minute vis­i­tors by mas­tering the basic cheese and char­cu­terie board.

A few simple steps will take your gath­ering from typ­ical to a mem­o­rable adven­ture in cui­sine – with no cooking involved! With so many sen­sa­tional cheeses, meats, jams and pickles to choose from, don’t your guests deserve some­thing a little more spe­cial than chips and dip? I’m here to help you wade through the options and come out vic­to­rious with a platter that will make your pals say wow!

Don’t know the first thing about cheese? Thought char­cu­terie was a town in France? NO PROBLEM! Visit me most Friday evenings from 4-7pm at Shubie’s for a taste of a few weekend win­ners. If you can’t make it, a good rule of thumb is one hard cheese (like a cheddar or Manchego), one soft cheese (yes, like a brie!), and, if you want, one blue (or goat or sheep or any­thing else that makes it seem like you’ve done this before!).

Budget 1–1.5 oz per person per cheese, and about 3 oz total of cheese per person. So, if you’re having 4 people, buy 12 oz of cheese, made up of approx­i­mately 4 oz of three dif­ferent cheeses. Same equa­tion goes for the meats. Whenever pos­sible, pull cheese out of the refrig­er­ator two hours before serving, so it can come down to room tem­per­a­ture, where it’s flavor is fully expressed.

Add a crunch factor, and I’m not just talking crackers here! Nuts, pickled any­thing, last night’s roasted veg­gies and grilled bread can be game-changers. If you go with crackers, choose some­thing your friends wouldn’t already have in their pantries at home. I love Onesto Crackers from Newburyport, Urban Oven and Kii Naturals Bite-Sized Crisps.

I’ll say this once. Spreads. Be it a deli­cious local jam packed with ripeness to cut through the salt on your palate or a sense-awakening, sinus-clearing mus­tard, this step will kick things up to a whole new level. Try Mustard and Co. of Seattle, Fille de Ferme Fine Preserves of Marblehead, and Wildly Delicious Jams of Toronto. Each com­pany believes in using the freshest ingre­di­ents in exciting com­bi­na­tions to make prod­ucts full of flavor.

Once you have your com­po­nents laid out, the impor­tant thing is not to over think the platter. You’ve just chosen a beau­tiful array of foods that shouldn’t need a lot of fuss to look stun­ning. Start with a simple, mono­chrome tray and follow the rule of keeping things together in big (or little) piles of color across the board. Add life with fresh and dried fruit, add height with short jars filled with mus­tard, pickles, and jam, and lastly, pour your­self a cel­e­bra­tory glass of wine, because you my friend, are ready for company!