A Wine Country Chef’s Elegant Picnic Snack Ideas
Good friends and great scenery are two key components of a memorable summer outing, for sure, but the picnic snacks are the main event. The very best outdoor jaunts hinge on perfect planning—from the location, to the blanket of choice, to gourmet ingredients. Jordan Winery’s Executive Chef Todd Knoll (who’s also my husband) spent an entire winter creating this elevated culinary escape with provisions of Michelin-star quality, and we’re delighted to share it, deconstructed for easy replication at home. I can attest to how delicious these recipes are, as I ate the props after the photo shoot. Supplement these picnic snack ideas with other classics—cheeses, crackers and fruit— and the right wines to create a full, elegant meal.
To create a truly special experience, be sure to read our Ultimate Summer Picnic List article, with ideas on everything from blankets to plates and delicious salumi.
Our Favorite Elegant Picnic Snack Ideas
There’s an elegant art to picnic snacks, an approach that simultaneously embraces flavor and facilitates portability. Finding finger foods that are versatile with wine is also a requirement. Enter the nut. A natural marriage between wine and nuts brings out the best in both. The secret lives in the skins. Nuts, like wine, have tannins in their outing layer. Those tannins offer a textural element that makes wine taste dry. Same for nuts. When you toast them, especially with the skin on, you’re creating the perfect bridge of flavors between the nut and wines aged in toasted oak barrels. Thus, a jar of mixed nuts becomes a highlight of an elegant, wine-centric picnic menu with a few tweaks. Brushing them in egg whites before popping them in the oven helps the spices adhere, creating a light, delicious crust. Toss with freshly chopped thyme and rosemary before serving to play up the subtle earthy notes in a Bordeaux-style wine like Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon. Here’s Chef Todd’s go-to spiced nut recipe for your next picnic or wine tasting party.
Like nuts and cheese, olives are another quintessential picnic snack. Use our easy recipe to transform store-bought olives into a picnic showstopper. At Jordan, we simply marinate a blend of French olives (Picholine and Nicoise are favorites) in Jordan Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil with fresh herbs and citrus zest. Toss in some marcona almonds, and the olives look and taste like they came from a fancy gourmet shop.
Seasonal Picnic Terrine: Glorifying the Summer Garden
For a show-stopping picnic snack idea, our seasonal vegetable terrine follows the garden’s mid-summer lead. This part of the season bursts with flavor and glows with vivid color. Making a vegetarian terrine is easy: All you need is a flavorful, well-seasoned gelée to hold the vegetables and grains in suspension. The main thing to remember is to use just enough gelatin to keep the vegetables soft; too much, and they’ll become rubbery. Fresh vegetables bring the garden to life in any summer moment, while the grains provide a textural element and offer notes of earth and smoke—both intriguing for wine pairing. Chef Todd likes Le Parfait super jars for a shared presentation; they’re less formal than the traditional dining room presentation of perfectly stacked slices, but equally as delicious. Adding herbs, flowers and sea salt to garnish brings another layer of texture.
We are inspired by our shared love of wine country’s natural beauty. Whether it be abalone, urchin or Dungeness crab, we are often provided with nature’s perfect vessel for incorporating into this elegant picnic menu. At once primal and star-studded, this summer-centric shell presentation first brings a smile of surprise followed by a new layer of appreciation. Our Dungeness Crab Salad with Hazelnut Vinaigrette marries the sweetness of persimmons with crisp cucumber and briny caviar.
Dessert in a Jar: An Elegant Picnic Snack Ending
Since everyone likes a little something sweet after a meal, serve desserts with a creamy consistency that adapt easily to various containers like small mason jars. Chocolate mousse is a staple at Jordan Harvest Lunches, and makes for a beautiful dessert presentation—and ideal transport —when served in petite jars, topped with raspberries and strawberries. Panna cotta topped with strawberry preserves also looks great and travels well in picnic jars. (Ina Garten’s Food Network recipe for Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries is a good place to start.) Then, sit back and marvel at the beautiful weather that summer brings with your companions.