Cheese Course Essentials
June 13, 2011
I’m on a bit of a food kick lately, so if you’ll indulge me, today I feel like talking about cheese yet again. I’ll be back to painting something soon I assure you, but today I need to talk about one of the most important things in my life and that is cheese. Not just any cheese, or your ordinary mass produced American chunks of cheddar, no I’m talking about the cheeses that come from the artisans. Gather round friends, because I’m about to share with you the secrets to serving a perfect cheese course.
A cheese course is a great way to start a party, but whether you serve a cheese course before or after a meal is up to you. It’s an American custom to serve before, and European tradition to serve after the main course.
To make your cheese course a memorable one, follow these simple tips!
Choosing the Cheeses. Create a balanced presentation by choosing a range of cheeses in a variety of flavors, textures, and milk sources (cow, goat and sheep). Artisan cheeses come in wedges, logs, or rounds, and you’ll find variety in shapes at your local market or specialty store.
Choose something mild like a jack or cheddar, something in the middle, like a rind cheese (Brie or Camembert) or a goat variety, and something more pungent or intense in flavor like blue cheese (including Roquefort, Stilton, or Gorgonzola).
Don’t serve too many. A palate is overwhelmed with more than four, so choosing three to four cheeses is ideal, plus it will give the taster a variety of choices for comparison and appreciation.
Always serve your cheeses at room temperature, and be sure to remove them from the refrigerator an hour before serving.
Displaying the Cheeses. It’s helpful to label your cheeses so guests know what they’re nibbling, and it also keeps them from asking “What was this cheese again?” I use my trusty slate cheese board, and chalkboard markers for labeling. However, if you don’t have a board or cheese markers, simply place the cheese’s label on your serving plate next to the cheese. That is the easiest way for both you and guests to remember, and also make a note for future purchase if it becomes a favorite.
If serving outdoors over a period of time, it’s a good idea to have a dome to protect your cheese from insects or the elements. I just use my cake plate dome or a cloche.
Good Company Required! Cheeses pair perfectly with fresh or dried fruits, many desserts, and of course wine. I think it’s so important to balance the soft and savory texture of cheese with ripe fruit. Pears and grapes always work, or you can choose something in season like peaches or apricots.
Bread, nuts and olives are also a natural accompaniment. When presenting them, keep it simple! Plain white plates or rustic platters are all you need, just a basket or bowl for your crackers, and a spot for your salty extras. Use whatever you’ve got in your collection, and simply group them together. Let the food shine, no need for extravagance.
The best way for guests to sample the cheeses is on a fresh sliced baguette, however I also like to supply simple water crackers for those who want to taste and don’t want to fill up on bread too quickly.
Dress Them Up. Don’t be afraid to get creative and add a little something extra to complement or enhance your cheeses, like fresh herbs, honey or chutney on top.
When you combine the sweetness of fruit with the saltiness from olives and nuts, you’ll appreciate the savory goodness of different artisan cheeses even more.
Other suggested accompaniments:
Fruit: apples, pears, figs, apricots, cherries, berries, grapes, sweet mandarin oranges, ripe or sundried tomatoes and fruit chutneys. Dried fruits work as well as fresh.
Nuts: salted or blanched almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios.
Meats: prosciutto or salami
Desserts: fruit tarts or galettes are fantastic when served with a good cheese, which makes the case for serving your cheese course with or as dessert.
Wine: There are many opinions on what kind of wine to serve with cheeses. We’ve served just about all of them from sparkling to white to red with an assortment of cheeses. Fresher or softer cheeses typically go well with whites like Sauvignon Blanc or Reisling, rind cheeses pair nicely with medium bodied Syrah, Pinot or Chardonnay, and aged or pungent cheeses favor denser reds like Cabernet, or even dessert wines. If you’re featuring a complex cheese, choose a simpler wine, and vice versa.
Don’t worry about always choosing the perfect cheese every time since making your selections is part of the food experience. Experiment with new textures, flavors and varieties! In the end, when you gather together a balanced medley of cheeses, fruits, and nuts, you’re bound to satisfy both your palate and your guests as well.