Kiasa wrote to me yesterday asking about creating a cheese course. (I immediately started salivating…and thinking.)
Last night my husband (and muse) and I sat down to discuss fromage. What would we put on our cheese plate?
We came up with a few things to keep in mind when planning a cheese course–
1) Keep the number of cheeses between 3-5.
2) Select cheeses that vary in texture, intensity, and flavor. You may also want to include cheeses made from goat, cow, or sheep’s milk.
3) Make a eye-catching, pleasing platter–use leaves, herbs, etc. to decorate it
4) Serve the cheese with complimentary sides–fresh/dried fruit, fresh nuts, chutneys/preserves, pickles, crusty bread and crackers, etc.
5) Think about your guests–what kinds of cheeses do you think they will like? Are they adventurous foodies, or novices? (Surely you wouldn’t want to buy all that cheese and have it sit uneaten on the cheese board.)
6) Choose a theme–maybe you want cheese from one particular region or country, maybe you would like a classic sampling, or perhaps you want to highlight cheeses only made from goat’s milk.
We’d want a cheddar, a blue cheese, a softer mild cheese, a hard strong cheese, and maybe something smoked–like Gouda. (That’s just us–you’d have to come up with what you like.)
You can go with the saying “Something old, something new, something goat, something blue.”
A good, simple plate might include:
Sharp Cheddar (Vermont or English)
Chevre (mild goat cheese)
Roquefort (or another blue–Stilton is good, but strong)
Brie or Camembert
Ricotta Salata (or maybe Manchego)
Good accompaniments include:
- Dried fruit–figs, apricots, raisins
- Nuts–toasted, fresh (in the shell) or candied walnuts, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts
- Fresh fruit–apples, pears, grapes, figs, or berries (stay away from citrus–it’s too acidic)
- Homemade or gourmet store bought condiments–preserves, membrillo (quince paste), cranberry chutney, wildflower honey, etc.
My husband’s advice is to pair crisp fruit like apples and pears with blue cheeses and cheddar, pickles also pair well with cheddar (he likes Branston pickle); fresh figs, raw honey, nuts and dried fruit go well with softer, mild cheeses (like Brie); fruit pastes (like membrillo) and preserves go well with salty cheeses.
If you choose to add a cheese like Manchego, serve it with salami, though it is traditionally eaten with membrillo.
Make sure to have enough bread and crackers (biscuits). The Joy of Cooking states that it is also customary to have softened butter on hand. (We like that idea!) We suggest buying a high-end, cultured butter from Europe or the Vermont Butter and Cheese Company.
The books I have read on this subject suggest serving a cheese course with a plain, crusty bread to allow the flavor of the cheese to shine through. A few said to think about serving a walnut or raisin bread, as is done in France, because it is complimentary to cheese.
We like plain, water crackers the best. However, a selection of crackers will suit the tastes of any crowd.
Ms. Lambert offers some suggestions on how to enjoy the cheeses.
- Eat the cheeses in order of strength–mild to robust to very strong
- Eat slowly–savor it, allow it to melt in your mouth
- Soft, semi-soft and blue cheeses are best savored by pressing them to the roof of your mouth. Harder and sharper cheeses are best tasted at the tip of the tongue.
- Eat the cheeses with wine or a piece of fruit to accentuate the flavor of the cheese.
When it comes to wine….I don’t drink wine, so we’ll have to look to other sources for that.
Other helpful advice–
- Plan on buying two to three ounces per person as an hors d’ ouvere; four to six ounces per person as a light meal
- Try to buy the cheese on the same day as your party, if possible.
- Serve the cheeses at room temperature (70 degrees F.); cover the cheese with a damp cloth to keep them from drying out.
- When arranging the cheeses on a platter, leave enough room between them so they can breathe.
- Be sure to have separate knife for each cheese.
Readers, do you have any other advice to share?