The holidays are approaching and you’re beginning to think about all of the festive gatherings and soirees ahead! Entertaining should be fun, not stressful. So, here is a helpful guide to assembling a cheese board that is sure to please.
First, you want to offer a good variety of cheeses. Select a range of flavor profiles and textures. Generally speaking, cheeses become more intense as they age; therefore, as your selections move from soft-ripened to aged, they are likely also gaining intensity. It’s also nice to offer a range of milks: cow, sheep, goat, or even water buffalo. You may want your selections to have a theme such as all New York State, or Spanish, or French.
Second, consider your audience. Almost immediately there are restrictions … “Oh, so and so doesn’t like blue or goat’s milk” (What?!) or “No stinky cheese!” Also, the size of your gathering will have some bearing on how many selections you may want to offer. You don’t want to overwhelm an intimate gathering with too many choices while a larger gathering allows you to venture into some new territories.
Lastly, accessorize! There are so many wonderful pairings that will enhance your cheese tasting experience, from quince jam to charcuterie and antipasto, to dried fruits and caramelized nuts …
Mmmm … let’s get started!
SOFT RIPENED CHEESES
For most, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about soft ripened cheese is brie or brie style cheese and we have some wonderful selections from Europe and the United States.
Delice de Bourgogne is a rich, decadent triple crème from France, while the Chaseholm Camembert, a consistent favorite here at Hart’s, hails from the Hudson Valley.
A favorite of mine is Cana de Cabre, a goat’s milk log from Spain that is similar to the French Bucheron but delivers a brighter, more citrusy flavor.
Another festive offering is the Fleur du Marquis, a sheep’s milk cheese from Corsica, encrusted with rosemary, juniper berries, and fennel seeds.
For a true indulgence, try the Truffle Tremor from Cypress Grove out of California. This soft ripened goat’s milk cheese is studded with fine Italian black truffles.
SEMI FIRM CHEESES
These cheeses have aged a bit longer but are still pliant and haven’t developed the crystallization that you will find in a cheese aged for a longer period of time.
Any of the Harpersfield Tilsits would fit this bill and they come in a variety of choices. My favorite is the Lapsang Souchong which has the addition of smoked black tea but the Hops and The Ommegang washed are also excellent.
First Light Creamery offers a beer brined cheddar that is a great choice for something super local. In fact, we have teamed up with First Light and Rohrbach’s Brewing Co. to come up with a custom brined version exclusively for us here at Hart’s.
Also from New York State and first offered in this area by Hart’s is the Walton Umber, a gruyere-like cheese made in the Catskills town of Walton.
Crossing the Pond, we offer Oussau Iraty, a sheep’s milk cheese from the Basque region of France that is creamy with a slight sweetness.
One may also enjoy the nuttiness of an Appenzeller from Switzerland.
This field is kind of wide open so come in and try a few things and let one of our knowledgeable cheese mongers find one (or two) that’s perfect for you!
Most people don’t think about sitting down and eating Parmesan cheese by the chunk, but with a glass of wine, it is a tasty experience with its salty sharpness and rich, nutty, fruity flavors.
Another great choice here would be an aged gouda, such as the Rembrandt or Parranno from the Netherlands. These cheeses develop a sweet caramel to butterscotch flavor as they age.
Manchego is a popular choice here and we offer a smoky version called Idiazabal, a sheep’s milk cheese direct from Spain.
For something from a producer closer to home, try Lively Run’s Finger Lakes Gold, which is an aged goat cheese that is firm, sharp, and nutty.
Bellavitano Espresso from Sartori of Wisconsin is another fine choice to finish off your selections. Starting out with a sharp parmesan- or piave-like base, the wheel is then coated with espresso resulting in an unexpected but pleasing taste experience.
Lively Run in Interlaken, NY makes two outstanding blues, Blue Yonder and Cayuga Blue, both of which we carry here at Hart’s. The Blue Yonder is made from raw cow’s milk and the Cayuga is a result of Lively Run’s own farmstead goat’s milk.
For those who enjoy a good Roquefort, I recommend the Shaft’s Bleu Vein Cheese, which is made by one of Wisconsin’s top producers and then shipped to California where it is aged in an abandoned gold mine.
Also from the Midwest is an American Cheese Society winning blue, Big Woods Blue. This sheep’s milk cheese is very light in flavor and texture.
Finally, from the UK we have Shropshire. Originally a Scottish attempt to replicate Stilton, Shropshire is unique due to its contrasting bright orange color and blue veining.
WASHED RIND CHEESES
Washed rind cheeses are often those cheeses people refer to as “stinky cheese,” although they run a full gamut of flavors from mellow, milky, and creamy to very intense. For beginners, I recommend Red Beard by Chaseholm Farms. This smear ripened cheese uses a hard apple cider and is very approachable with full and rich flavor without being overpowering.
Also on the mellow side is an Italian beauty called Brescianella. This is a fairly new cheese and resembles a finer version of Taleggio. Don’t let the pungent aroma fool you–this one is very easy on the palette.
Moving up on the intensity scale, we here at Hart’s are happy to be the first in the area to offer Ouleout from Vulto Creamery. This is probably Jos Vulto’s homerun. Ouleout is featured on the menu at Gramercy Tavern in New York City and is a favorite around the best cheese shops in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Once you’ve made your cheese selections …
We will be more than happy to walk you through our selection of charcuterie, antipasto, and other accompaniments. We carry beautifully packaged pre-sliced Prosciutto and Speck from La Quercia out of Iowa, and Pate de Campagne and mousses from Alexia, both highly ranked brands in a recent survey of international charcuterie. Pair with some oil cured olives mixed with herbs de provence.
I could go on but why not come on in and talk to one of our knowledgeable staff members and we will help you find the perfect pairings tailored for your holiday party or special event! We look forward to seeing you at our cheese counter soon!