The Big Cheese
Holiday cheese trays should be varied to appease variety of palates
Unless your family or friends are vegan, consider the awesome power of cheese and its ability to please.
So what about an elegant cheese board? I've seen many customers come into Katzinger's heading timidly toward the cheese case, frightened souls who would sooner pick up a pre-made processed
tray from the closest corporate grocer than deal with the 100-plus cheeses brightly glistening inside the cheese case. But they want something special, something that will keep their guests talking.
We cheese mongers are here to guide you with these decisions, in fact, we live for the privilege. As soon as we hear those magic words "What do you suggest for my gathering?" we're itching to
navigate you into our world. For those of you who would like a little confidence and direction before walking into our "cheesy" world, here are a few tips when planning your next cheese board.
First thing is to think about your audience. I love when people want to hear about my favorites, but I have access to tons of cheese, and seriously plan whole vacations around my preferred noshes. I
could go on and on about what I think are the best cheeses are this week, but your Uncle Ted might turn his nose up at a stinky washed-rind goat cheese. If you're having people over who are used to
cubed cheese from that previously mentioned large grocery chain, you probably don't want to get too exotic. Explain this to your cheese monger, and he or she will steer you to friendly, popular
sellers. On the other hand, if you're catering to a bunch of foodies, you might want to go with old classics as well as the new and interesting. Finally, if you have a mix of both palates, or you don't
know the majority of your audience's tastes (which tends to be more often the case), get a mix of friendly, classic and interesting.
So how many cheeses and how much of each to get? Three to five cheeses is usually a good start for a nice variety of textures, styles, presentation and milk types. A nice basic cheese board should
consist of a soft cheese, like a gooey brie or decadently creamy triple-crme, a nice cheddar (English, if you're coming to my house), and a hard cheese, an aged goat's milk Gouda, perhaps. If you want to go a little further, add on a blue, and maybe get edgy with a pungent, oozing washed rind.
As far as how much, again your local cheese monger can steer you in the right direction, but typically 2 ounces of each per person is probably a good estimate. If you're only having cheese at your celebratory gathering, get more and save some for yourself.
Other things to consider when choosing a cheese board are themes and accompaniments. For the wintry holidays, triple-crmes, due to their decadence, and British cheeses, such as Stilton and
Montgomery's Cheddar, which have come to be considered winter "holiday" cheeses. Menorah and manger holidays aside, you might be attending a party celebrating Italy, to which a variety of Italian cheeses would be appropriate, or fast forward to July, when celebrations of American Independence scream for independent, artisan American cheeses at the party.
And what about those accompaniments? Cheese is yummy all its own, but pair it up with something special, and you've got euphoria. Preserves, chutneys and honeys make great condiments, while fresh and dried fruits, roasted nuts, salamis, olives, and pickles can turn your cheese board into the main course with some crusty bread and wine or beer.
Wendy Hunsinger is the specialty-foods manager for Katzinger's in German Village.