Cheese is the food I get the most excited about it…by far. I LOVE CHEESE. Whether it be queso dip at a Mexican restaurant, grilled cheese sandwiches, a cheese board, cheese grated over a salad or in a pasta…it makes everything better!
When we have people over, Miller usually does the cooking, and I am in charge of the appetizers. My favorite thing is to serve a cheese plate, which I take much pride in. You can probably tell, because I often tweet pictures of my hors d’oeuvres setups! I have so much fun going cheese shopping and then styling it to look all pretty. Part of the reason I enjoy it so much is because there are so many little cheese shops around New York, like Murray’s Cheese, where the employees are passionate about sharing their knowledge and love of cheese. If you live in a smaller city with no shops like this, go to the most gourmet grocery store you can find, and there should be someone willing to help you.
My very favorite thing about a cheese plate, is the pairings. I LOVE interesting and contrasting pairings- like a strong cheese with a mild fruit, jam, or honey. If I see fresh figs or fig jam on a cheese board, I am in HEAVEN. There is definitely etiquette and “rules” when it comes to preparing the perfect cheese plate, but I don’t think there is any reason to complicate things or follow rules. You should just do what you like and people will enjoy it no matter what.
If creating a cheese board intimidates you a little bit, here are a few general guidelines that you can follow…(or choose not to follow)
-Serve between 3 to 5 cheeses, and the typical serving size is 1-2 oz per cheese/per person (tell this to the person at the store so they will know how much to cut)
-Go for different types of cheeses. For example…different milk types, textures, degrees of creaminess, and colors.
-Don’t remove the rinds, and if the rinds are soft, they are perfectly edible.
-Cheese taste better at room temperature so always take it out of the fridge an hour before serving.
-Serve with at least one bready thing, whether it be a baguette or your favorite cracker.
-Serve the cheeses on a big board, and order the cheeses from mildest to strongest.
-A lot of experts say to end on a blue cheese, which tastes amazing paired with a honey or a chocolate sauce!
-Opposites attract. Mix a salty with sweet or a really strong, stinky cheese with a mild fruit such as a pear.
-Things can definitely get very specific when it comes to what wine to pair with cheese, but you can’t go wrong serving champagne or prosecco.
-Always ask the person at the cheese counter for his or her current favorite cheeses and pairings.
-Different pairing options…Honey, dried fruits like figs or apricots, toasted hazelnuts or walnuts, almonds (marcona almonds are a favorite), fruit jams, chutneys, fresh fruit (my favorites are figs, grapes, cherries, and pears), chocolate, olives, cured meat like proscuitto or salami, bread and crackers.
And have fun with it! You could pick a theme such as serving cheese from specific countries or you could label each one on a slate cheese board so that can people can learn about the cheeses they are eating.
Here are a few no fail summer pairings:
A good goat cheese with cherries and almonds.
Aged Gruyere with fig jam.
A good blue cheese, like a Blue Fourme d’ambert, with clover honey or fresh pears.
Sweet hard cheeses with fresh figs.
A manchego with apricot jam or quince jelly. I had never had quince jam until the cheese lady at Dean and Deluca introduced it to me last year. She had me pair a manchego, with quince paste, and Carr’s rosemary crackers…delicious!!!
Parmegiano Reggiano with raw honey.
Hope you enjoyed my cheese how-to’s. I tried my best to keep it as simple as possible!
And last but not least…if you are ever in NYC, you must check out my favorite wine and cheese restaurant, Casellula. If cheese has never excited you before, it will after you try this place. The pairings are so surprising and every bite is a serious explosion of flavor!!! My mouth is watering just thinking about this place.