Want to put together a people-pleasing platter? Say cheese.
That staple of dinner parties and holiday gatherings is a must for fall entertaining. As America’s appetite for cheese has grown, so too has the selection with hundreds of possibilities. Colder weather also stimulates a craving for stronger flavored cheeses.
Not that long ago, our cheese choices seemed limited to cheddar, jack, Swiss, blue, cream and American. Now, you can find dozens of cheeses, both imported and domestic, in a typical supermarket.
All that choice can make it difficult to decide where to begin. Assemble a cheese plate or tray like a pro with these suggestions from TheCheesesofEurope.com and other cheese experts:
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▪ Selection: Choose three to five cheeses with a variety of textures and flavors, from soft and mild to hard and sharp. Mix up milks, too, with some cow, goat or sheep milk cheeses among your selections. When building a cheese plate, quality is more important than quantity. For peak of freshness and flavor, shop for cheese close to your event.
Can’t decide? Ask experts for advice. Your cheesemonger (the person in charge of selling all that cheese) can give you suggestions as well as tastes of possible cheeses.
How much cheese? Plan on 4 to 6 ounces of cheese total per person. For example, if serving six, your cheese selections should total at least 24 ounces (1 1/2 pounds).
▪ Presentation: Bring cheeses to room temperature before serving, about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on size. Make a few slices of each, then arrange on a plate, tray, cheeseboard or other serving surface with the remaining cheese so your guests can see what each cheese looks like next to its slices. Have a few knives handy, too, for more slicing and/or spreading.
When placing on the serving dish or tray, arrange the cheeses so they progress from mildest to most pungent in a clockwise pattern. Labels are optional, but be ready to answer your guests’ oft-repeated question: “Which cheese is this one?”
▪ Add extras: Select mild-flavored crackers, toast points, crostini or thin baguette slices. Remember: This is all about the cheese; it should be the star.
But a good cheese plate is more than cheese and crackers. These extras complement the cheese and bring out its nuances.
Consider thinly sliced crisp apple, pear or Fuyu persimmon. Fresh or dried figs, blackberries, golden raisins, fresh grapes, dates and dried apricots add exotic flavors. Or offer some fig spread, plum butter or chutney on the side. Sliced meats and olives add salty notes and contrasts. Almonds and walnuts provide a healthy crunch. Drizzle a little honey on pungent cheese for a dash of sweetness. Chocolate squares pair well with some cheeses, too.
▪ Beverages: Pair mild cheeses with lighter wines and more robust cheeses with bolder wines. Cheeses also pair well with beer, coffee, cider and liqueurs.
▪ Resources: The Cheeses of Europe offers suggestions for different cheese plate combinations for various occasions. Find them at www.thecheesesofeurope.com/recipes/recipes. The site also has a video demonstration of a cheese board being assembled.
Baked Camembert bread wreath
Recipe courtesy Freutcake.
One 8-ounce Camembert wheel
One 25-ounce bag frozen dinner rolls dough
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds for garnish
Flaked sea salt
Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Using the Camembert as a guide in the center, arrange frozen dough rolls in two circles around the cheese, leaving a 1/2-inch space between rolls and between circles. Remove cheese and refrigerate until ready to use.
Brush frozen rolls with melted butter. Thaw 1 hour in a warm, draft-free area, then allow an additional 2 hours to rise until doubled in size.
Once dough has formed a “wreath,” par-bake at 325 degrees for 7 minutes.
Using a sharp knife, carefully remove the top layer of rind from the Camembert wheel. This will allow for easy dipping.
Remove par-baked rolls from the oven and fit Camembert in the center. Bake an additional 8-10 minutes, or until rolls are golden brown and cheese is melted.
Using parchment paper, slide wreath off of baking sheet and onto a serving platter or board.
Brush rolls with melted butter and sprinkle with flaked sea salt. Sprinkle Camembert with minced rosemary.
Garnish wreath by inserting small, 1-inch-long pieces of fresh rosemary and clusters of pomegranate seeds between rolls. Serve immediately.
Endive with chèvre
This easy appetizer looks elegant – and it’s gluten-free – as the endive leaves sub for crackers or bread. Experiment with other soft cheeses, too, or blue or Gorgonzola blended with cream cheese.
2 Belgian endives
6 ounces chèvre (goat cheese)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chives (optional), finely chopped
Cut the root ends off the endives and separate the leaves. Sort to get 18 leaves of approximately the same size (save others for another use). Wash and pat dry. Cut the radishes into very thin slices. Stack up a few slices and cut them vertically into matchsticks.
Place about 1 teaspoon of cheese onto the broad, flat end of each endive leaf. Grind a little black pepper over the top and sprinkle with chopped chives if desired. Garnish with radish matchsticks. This can be served immediately or covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for later use.
Rolls with cured ham and prunes with Saint Angel or Fromager d’Affinois
6 slices cured ham
12 stoned prunes (can be substituted with other dried fruit, such as dates)
5 ounces Fromager d’Affinois or Saint Angel cheese
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the slices of cured ham in half lengthwise.
Cut the Fromager d’Affinois or Saint Angel into pieces.
Roll up 1 prune and 1 piece of cheese inside each slice of cured ham. Keep it all together with a toothpick.
Put into the oven for 5 to 8 minutes. Serve immediately.
Serves 6 (2 per person)