Guest Article Submitted by Victoria Sardia of Working Health Remedies
Chocolate is a must when entertaining your guests, but cheese makes it even better. There are two main options for serving an eye-opening selection of fine artisan cheeses: (1) A board where you lay out the chunks and your guests cut their own portions; (2) Prepared plates where you arrange pre-cut portions and serve a sit-down course. The first option has the advantages of being more relaxed and free-flowing, allowing people to circulate around the room, cocktail-party style. The problem with this approach is a lack of presentation- or portion-control, and, frankly, self-service boards tend to get a bit sloppy, which does a disservice to fine cheeses. The second option — a cheese course — is an elegant and intriguing addition to your holiday party. You get a lot of bang for your buck, the prep is relatively simple, and the cheese plate takes the place of, at the very least, your appetizer course if not your entrée. Choose a selection of five or six cheeses and serve portions of 1 to 11⁄2 ounces per person per cheese. (Remember, these are tasting plates; a little bit of great cheese goes a long way.) As accompaniments, serve figs; membrillo (Spanish quince paste, which should be available at any fine cheese outlet); slices of a high-quality baguette; or some type of whole-grain bread (if you’re offering a blue cheese, walnut and/or raisin bread goes very well).
Be sure to mix and match your selection to keep things interesting. Alternate milk types (cow, goat, sheep) and textures (soft, medium, hard); progress from milder to stronger flavors. Start with a mild, rich French triple crème such as Explorateur or Brillat-Savarin or, alternatively, one of the Northern Italian cheeses from the Robiola family; move on to a medium-aged, mold-ripened goat cheese such as the Spanish Monte Enebro or Humboldt Fog from Northern California; next, a hard extra-aged Mimolette from northern France or an authentic 3-year-old Dutch farmhouse Gouda; followed by a washed-rind stinker, the quintessential Burgundian Epoisses, as smooth, melting, meaty and balanced as it is smelly; next, an aged sheep’s-milk cheese like Spenwood from the British Isles or Pecorino di Pienza, a taste from the beautiful hills of south-central Tuscany; and, finally, the coup de grace, a creamy yet intensely flavored world-class blue such as genuine Roquefort or perhaps Stilton, from its original maker, Colston-Bassett.
For a larger group, try the Spanish Queso de la Serena or Torta del Casar and the Portuguese Serra da Estrela or Serpa; these Iberian “torta” cheeses are collectively known as the ultimate party animals. Buy a whole one (from 2 to 4 1/2 pounds), carve off the top of the rind and scoop out servings of this incredible, glossy sheep’s milk ambrosia as it melts languorously at room temperature. These delicacies offer deep, complex, lingering flavors highlighted by an intriguing undercurrent of bittersweetness.
Important note: Always be sure to take your cheeses out of the fridge in plenty of time (at least 30 minutes) to bring them to room temperature before serving. Offering fine cheeses too cold, which masks their flavor, is the biggest mistake people make in cheese entertaining.