The common cracker need not be slathered with processed cheese spread or homogenized green onion dip. No, the most aromatic spreads, and the tastiest, be they hot or cold, are those that combine cheese and seasonings, fish and herbs, or vegetables (baked, grilled, roasted or steamed) and piquant additions like anchovy paste and olives.

There also are those that are homemade. The spreads that follow make interesting hand-crafted appetizers and, although some are lusty and coarse-textured, they are most soothing smeared over a crisp cracker or craggy hunk of peasant bread (in each case, homemade is especially nice). And, these spreads can add just the right hearty note to a meal of bread and soup.

Often, spreads are light and ethereal, if they are leavened by lots of whipped cream or homemade mayonnaise or a combination of both. The following spreads, though, are moderately dense. Cream cheese forms the base for many of them, occasionally alone or in combination with other cheeses, such as roquefort or cheddar. Flavoring comes from such sources as chutney or herbs or fish.

Spreads look most inviting piled into oval terrines made of glazed pottery or ovenproof porcelain. To add a special freshness to the spread, fan a few sprigs of your favorite herb over the top just before serving, or ring the edges of the serving dish with lots of small sprigs.

Herewith, six spreads (spicy cream cheese, crab meat, smoked bluefish, roquefort-cognac, roasted red pepper and olive, curried chutney) to revitalize the cocktail hour, or to have on hand for snacking: SPICY CREAM CHEESE SPREAD (Makes enough spread to serve 10 as a savory with bread or crackers)

Colored by paprika and dotted with bits of capers, chives, cumin and caraway seeds, this spread is good over triangles of pita bread, buttered and crisped in the oven, rye toasts or rounds of French bread. For this spread, I almost always use a high-quality cream cheese, one that is manufactured without the addition of stabilizers; the cream cheese can be purchased at most local health food groceries, specialty food stores or cooperatives.

1 pound cream cheese, softened at room temperature

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon cumin seed

1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed

2 teaspoons anchovy paste

2 tablespoons whipping cream, or sour cream

2 tablespoons finely snipped fresh chives

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves

1 teaspoon nonpareil capers, minced

2 scallions, trimmed and minced

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Beat together the cream cheese and butter in the large bowl of an electric mixer on moderately high speed for 10 minutes. Beat in the paprika, cumin, cumin seed, caraway seeds, and anchovy paste. Blend in whipping cream (or sour cream). Beat in the chives, parsley, capers, and scallions. Season with black pepper to taste.

Scrape the spread into a 3-cup crock or terrine, cover and chill for at least 3 hours to mellow. Let the spread stand at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving. Accompany the spread with crackers or toast.

CRAB MEAT SPREAD (Makes enough spread to serve 6 as a savory with bread or crackers)

It's the horseradish that gives this spread a nippy, tangy taste; the minced scallions add a subtle onion flavor. The creamy spread, punctuated by lumps of snowy crab, is a wonderful -- and speedy -- concoction that will make the cocktail hour memorable.

1/2 pound cream cheese, softened at room temperature

2 scallions, trimmed and minced

3 tablespoons whipping cream

1 1/2 tablespoons horseradish

1 tablespoon snipped fresh dill feathers

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/2 pound crab meat, picked over for bones or cartilage

Beat the softened cream cheese in a large bowl with the scallions, whipping cream, horseradish, dill, cayenne, and salt. Fold through the crab meat.

Scrape the crab meat mixture into a 4-cup oven-proof terrine. Bake the crab meat on the lower third level rack of a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes or until bubbly-hot and light golden on top. Accompany the hot spread with thin French bread toasts, good wheat crackers, or slices of lightly toasted sourdough bread.

SMOKED BLUEFISH SPREAD (Makes enough spread to serve 8 as a savory with bread and crackers)

Moist, suave chunks of bluefish are pure'ed with butter, cream cheese, and seasonings to make a quick-from-scratch spread of some distinction. Other types of smoked fish would do nicely here, as the other components are mild-mannered enough to enhance the likes of smoked salmon, trout or whitefish. The spread is festive enough to serve as a first course with warm toast points; for individual service, smooth the spread into small 1/2-cup ramekins. Or pile the spread in one large terrine, country-style, and garnish with fresh sprigs of thyme.

1 pound smoked bluefish, skinned, boned and flaked

3/4 pound cream cheese, softened at room temperature

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

3 tablespoons sour cream

2 scallions, trimmed and minced

2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

2 teaspoons nonpareil capers, minced

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon brandy

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Beat together the bluefish, cream cheese, butter, and sour cream in the bowl of an electric mixer on moderately high speed for 3 to 4 minutes. By hand, stir in the scallions, thyme, capers, lemon juice, and brandy. Season with salt and pepper.

Scrape the spread into a 3- to 4-cup crock or terrine, cover and chill for 2 hours. For serving, remove the spread from the refrigerator 20 minutes before serving. Serve the spread with toast, crackers, or rounds of French bread.

ROQUEFORT-COGNAC SPREAD (Makes enough spread to serve 10 as a savory with bread or crackers)

Once whipped up, this piquant roquefort spread remains vibrant and intense, energized as it is by several good splashes of cognac. The spread makes a zesty companion to drinks, smoothed over slices of peasant bread or thin, grain-enriched crackers.

3/4 pound roquefort cheese, softened at room temperature

1/2 pound cream cheese, softened at room temperature

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted sweet butter, softened at room temperature

3 tablespoons cre`me frai~che, or sour cream

1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup cognac

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

Place the roquefort, cream cheese, and butter in the large bowl of an electric mixer, and cream until quite light on moderately high speed, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally to keep the mixture even. Blend in the cre`me frai~che (or sour cream), worcestershire sauce, cognac and pepper.

Scrape the spread into a 4-cup terrine or crock. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours to allow the flavors to meld. (Spread may be held overnight or up to 3 weeks, tightly sealed.) For serving, remove the spread from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before using. Accompany the spread with French bread toasts or whole grain crackers.

ROASTED RED PEPPER AND OLIVE SPREAD (Makes enough spread to serve 8 as a savory with bread or crackers)

Red peppers taste rich and smoky when they are roasted and charred over the glowing coals of a barbecue. Once blackened all over, pop the peppers in a brown paper bag and crumple it closed; after about 45 minutes, remove the peppers from the bag, peel and deseed them. Confining the peppers to a bag once they are roasted allows moisture to develop between the flesh and skin, which makes peeling them so much easier.

2 cups peeled and seeded roasted red peppers, finely chopped

1 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted and finely chopped

1/4 cup good olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon anchovy paste

1/2 teaspoon nonpareil capers, minced

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the peppers, olives, olive oil, garlic, parsley, thyme, vinegar, anchovy paste and capers in a mixed bowl. Blend well. Season with black pepper.

Pour and scrape the spread into a pretty serving bowl. Accompany the spread with thin rounds of French bread. (For longer storage, the spread may be assembled and refrigerated, tightly covered, for up to 4 days; let the spread return to room temperature before serving.)

CURRIED CHUTNEY SPREAD (Makes enough spread to serve 8 as a savory with bread or crackers)

Swirled through this cheddar-cream cheese spread is a fair amount of mango chutney. The chutney adds a sweet-sharpness to the spread while it lightens the texture. Partner the spread with a basketful of crisp pita toasts or warm, crusty slices of French bread.

1/2 pound cream cheese, softened at room temperature

1/2 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1 teaspoon good-quality curry powder

1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 tablespoon sour cream

1 tablespoon dry sherry

3/4 cup mango chutney

1/2 cup trimmed and minced scallions

Beat together the softened cream cheese, cheddar cheese, butter, and curry powder in the large bowl of an electric mixer on moderately high speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until quite light and well-blended. Beat in the salt, sour cream, and dry sherry. By hand, fold through the chutney and minced onions.

Scrape the spread into a 4-cup terrine or crock and refrigerate, covered, for at least 4 hours to allow the flavors to meld. Serve the spread at cool room temperature, accompanied by toast or crackers.