According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center the demand for cheese has been one of the most significant factors influencing the dairy industry. Increased cheese consumption can be attributed, in part, to more people traveling to Europe and growth in specialty, artisan, and farmstead cheeses.
Whether you’re throwing something together for unexpected guests or planning a more formal occasion, a cheese board always seems to be appreciated and others will be in awe of your having conquered this seemingly complicated process.
Some like to assemble cheeses, wines, and accompaniments from around the world, while others prefer to do a theme; all French or all English for example. Whatever your preferences include a variety of textures and tastes. Here are some guidelines to help you get started.
How Much Cheese Do I Need?
Guides say to allow about 2 oz. cheese per person but it’s been my experience you will need 3 oz. or even 4 oz. It depends on your guests; you know them better than I do.
How Many Cheeses Should I Include?
If your guests called from down the block, what you have on hand is the perfect number. Otherwise six will offer good variety and 12 will give you a full range of flavors and textures, which is the key.
What Should I Serve With the Cheese?
If you drink alcohol, wine is traditional and a perfect compliment. If you’re only going to serve one wine make it champagne. Wine suggestions accompany the cheese descriptions below.
Some people are more beer drinkers so I’ve also included some suggestions there too.
For nonalcoholic drinks try iced tea, sparkling water, sparkling apple cider, or cranberry juice.
Be sure to have plenty of water so guests can cleanse their palettes.
You’ll need some breads (herb, nut, multigrain, and/or French baguette) and crackers.
Fruit pairs well with cheese, and is also a traditional compliment.
TYPES OF CHEESES
Offer a good variety by selecting at least one cheese from each of the categories below. I’ve listed some better know cheeses in each category so you can get a handle on the classifications. These cheeses are also relatively easy to find. If you have a cheese shop near you this is the perfect opportunity to go in and discuss the differences and sample various cheeses in the categories below. What a lovely way to spend part of your day.
Camembert –Reputed to be the favorite cheese of Napoleon this Normandy cow’s milk cheese is creamy, buttery, and mild.
Gouda – A cow’s milk cheese from the Netherlands. It is yellow and mild – unless it’s an old Gouda which is stronger, more orange, and tangy.
Mozzarella – Cow‘s or Buffalo’s milk cheese from Italy, although California makes some good ones. It is sweet, milky, and has a slightly resilient texture. Best in the spring when made from the milk of cows that graze on sweet young grass. Should be eaten within a couple of days from when it is made.
Pair with full-bodies whites like Chardonnay or red wines from light to complex.
Ales pair well with cheddar.
Fresh crisp apples are also a good pair with cheddar.
Cheddar – A year round cow’s milk cheese originally from England, but also now from California, Vermont, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia.
Parmigianino – Reggiano – Cow’s milk cheese from Italy. Aged it has a nutty sharp flavor.
Pecorino – This is a sheep’s milk cheese from Italy with a strong flavor and slightly smoky smell.
Pairs well with sweet wines, such as Sauternes or Port.
Beer lovers will appreciate a stout with Bleus.
I think the perfect fruit accompaniment is a ripe, fresh, pear.
Bleu is a general classification for a cow and /or goat milk cheese that has a blue or blue-green mold from Penicilum .While the mold originally came from the caves where they were stored for aging, today the spores are added to the cheese. However, most of these cheeses must still be aged in the caves where they were originally developed to bear the name.
Roquefort – A sheep’s milk cheese from France that has had the mold injected. It is creamy with pungent and spicy flavors. It is best in spring and late autumn. Similar cheeses also come from the U.S., England, and Australia.
Stilton – A classic, full bodied cow’s milk cheese from England that is best late autumn to spring.
Gorgonzola – An Italian blue where the mold is mixed right in with the curds to insure even distribution. Younger Gorgonzola is creamy and moist. As it ages it becomes drier with a crumbly consistency and a more pronounced flavor.
Pairs well with whites such as Sancerre, Sauvignon Blanc, or Chablis
Aged goat cheeses go well with lagers
The semi-hard goat cheeses go well with reds.
Chevre – Refers to a range of soft, semi hard and hard goat cheeses. Chevre means goat in French.
Chevrolle – This well-known chevre is fresh, spreadable and moist with a buttery texture and a slightly sharp and lightly acidic flavor. This simple cheese, pictured at right, is one of my favorites. The white outer part is eatable.
Artisan or Specialty Cheeses
This is the classification where you can have a lot of fun in the cheese shop. This is a good area to explore and experiment – both for you and your guests.
The word “artisan” or “artisanal” implies that a cheese is produced primarily by hand, in small batches, using as little mechanization as possible.
Specialty cheeses often have additions like chopped olives. Check back tomorrow for my very simple instructions to make your own cheese tortes. They always seem to impress.
- Take the cheese out of the frig an hour before your guests arrive (if possible.) Cheese needs to be at room temperature to release its full flavor.
- Provide individual knives for each cheese to keep the flavors intact.
- Cheese tags are a nice idea, so everyone will know what they are eating. You can purchase little cheese slate tags you can write on with chalk or actually any tag you create can be glued to a toothpick and stuck in the wedge.
- Leave the cheeses intact, with a slice or two cut to encourage people to begin.
If you’re serving apples you may want to garnish your tray with an apple bird. They are really simple to make and look quite impressive. Here’s a link to instructions. http://www.howtogarnish.com/Garnish.aspx/Apple-Bird/10
If you want to start having mini tastings for yourself and/or a few friends http://www.artisanalcheese.com/Vegetarian-Organic-Cheese/products/1046/ sells a cheese plate clock. Each quarter of the plate describes the type of cheese to put there and then guides you in a mild to strong progression.
Have fun with this. With hundreds of cheeses in the world the adventure need never end.