And An Expert’s Advice on How to Use It
Thanks to Mother Nature, man is genetically equipped with many of the fundamental skills required for survival. Unfortunately, unless Mike Tyson happens to be your role model, you’ll never successfully navigate modern social obligations on baser instincts alone.
Take throwing your upcoming holiday cocktail party. Ignore the voice in your gut telling you a case of Natty Light and a 5th of Thunderbird is all it’ll take to pull it off. Obeying it will ensure you’ll never see a cocktail dress again.
Instead, add sophistication to your festive shindig with cheese. Your guests will appreciate having food around to balance their drinking, and if chosen correctly, the mix of flavors should make everyone’s palate appreciative of that extra coin you shelled out for classy drinks.
Wondering how to serve it? We suggest the Metrokane Complete Cheese Service (pictured above). For less than $40, this classic bamboo tray provides enough real estate for all manner of nibbles while conveniently storing its included serving utensils underneath.
When it comes to choosing what to serve though, we’ll always defer to the experts. So to help us out, we sat down to talk with Christine Hyatt founder of Cheese Chick, member of the Board of Directors of the American Cheese Society, and monthly columnist for the Oregon Wine Press.
Find out what we learned after the jump.
GP: For someone who doesn’t know a thing about cheese, what’s the best place to buy it?
Christine: You should always buy cheese from a reputable cheese monger. Besides knowing cheese inside and out, cheese at specialty stores rotates quickly guaranteeing you get good quality.
GP: Should one only focus on buying the French stuff?
Christine: If you’re asking what countries produce good cheese, it’s not just France. The majority of European countries have century old cheese traditions. I recommend cheese from Northern Italy, and Spain (Spanish Manchego is a favorite). The U.S is also going through a renaissance building on traditions in unique new ways with some interesting results.
GP: Is there a general rule of thumb regarding how many cheeses should go on a plate?
Christine: Ideally 3 to 5. As a novice, cater a basic combination of 3 to the experience levels of your guests. Some easy ideas for mixing include focusing on the three forms of milk used to make cheese: cow’s, goat’s, and sheep’s. Or you could sample various styles or families of cheese: fresh (no rind), soft ripened (white or soft rind), or aged and pressed cheeses. Blue cheese can also be a family unto itself. One simple maxim to live by is push tasters out of their comfort zone to experience new interesting tastes, but don’t go so far that you don’t feel authentic and true to who you are.
GP: What about the fixin’s, any recommendations on what makes the best cheese companion?
Christine: Fresh or dried fruits such as cherries and apricots are great. They provide color contrast and their sweet flavor should serve as a nice foil to the saltiness of the cheese. In terms of crackers, stick to bland tasting ones so the flavor of the cheese shines through. Better yet just buy a fresh bagguet. It’s the ideal way of getting cheese to the mouth. Charcuterie also works well. The saltiness of the meats is a great mirror to cheese. Black forest ham or salami are good choices. (Editors: Good news for us men!)
GP: What about pairing cheese with wine?
Christine: Personally drink what you like. However if you’re using mild tasting cheese, pair them with either a white or light red wine. If they happen to be bold assertive cheeses, they can then handle the full bodied flavor of a Cabernet. A general safe bet though for choosing a red and a white is a Chardonnay, but not the oaky buttery kind produced in California. Syrahs not generally high in tannins or Australia Sheraz also serve well.
Also, though it might surprise you, beer can be used and I predict this trend will start to grow. Beer complements cheese well because if you think about they are both grass based (cows eat grass, beer contains grains). Plus bubbles cleanse the pallet. In terms of choosing light or dark beer, follow the same rule as wine, based on taste.
GP: How much do you need to buy / spend to create a great cheese plate?
Christine: $30-$45 should get you three nice sized pieces (3/4 of a pound) and serve 6 to 8 people. Generally though for planning purposes base your quanities on the notion of 3 to 4 oz of cheese per person. If the cheese tray is accompanying a meal as a cheese course, you can lower that to 2-3.
GP: Any other advice?
Christine: Supporting local cheese makers can go a long way to support the economy and the environment. Local cheese is an affordable luxury and since it travels less distant helps support lowering your carbon foot print. Also serve what you like to eat or drink. Just not Velveeta.
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