Friday, December 13, 2013

Oh My Gnosh!

Tips for Serving Gourmet Spreads and Cheeses (as a gift or…) at Your Next Party
CHEESE makes a marvelous gift for the people you love. Yes, CHEESE: worthy of all caps—that is, if you present it well and offer pairings that make those already heavenly flavors pop. I love stories from hostesses that are told with a sigh—how guests at the Xmas party nibbled at their cheese plate, and asked, mouths full, if there would be a hostess/guest gift exchange. “Uh…darling? That dreamy little block in your hand with the cheesemonger’s initials engraved right into the rind? THAT was your gift.”

Point of story:  If the cheese isn’t speaking for itself and needs a little help, this Extreme Party Planner has come to your rescue with tips on how to make the perfect cheese plate.
Consider the 4 basic categories of cheese before you shop: Cheese is sold soft, hard, aged and blue; a representative from each category is a nice way to go, and an expert behind the cheese counter will be happy to help you. Personally, I believe the safest bets are cheeses that don’t have a pungent odor (I’m looking at you, Camembert), but do possess those nice sharp, tangy, earthy and/or nutty flavors we all love—that’s why I concentrate on the kind of milk used to make it, i.e. sheep, goat and cow. Go with manchengo (made from sheep’s milk, it’s a favorite tapa in Spain), aged 15 to 24 months cheddar and anything manufactured by Santori—their stuff is the friggin’ bomb.  Familiarize yourself with their logo via this photo:

Take the cheese out at least an hour before the party, unwrap it and let it breathe. The flavors shine through more this way.  Plan on 3 to 4 ounces of cheese bliss per person; this can easily translate into 3 to 6 different types of cheeses—ideal for a small party; one or two cheeses serve a gift basket well—you just have to find yummy accompaniments…like a sweet fig spread, crackers and assorted olives. More on those (olives!) later.     

Don’t worry about a carb overload—no such thing on a cheese platter. Use crackers AND sliced bread:  Be sure to vary up the textures on these--that’s every bit as important as diverse cheeses.  Reserve an extra cheese spreader to plunge into a jarred condiment that works well with a cheese plate, i.e. fig spreads (I’ve linked to a good one), Grey Poupon mustard or pretty pickles—which I published a recipe for in Sunday Best Dishes.
Stock up on Olives—loading a ramekin full of them works out nicely next to your cheeseboard Moroccan beldi olives are particularly tasty with any fine cheese—they come in so many pretty colors—from big plum colored purples to small and shriveled marble sizes. Roasted red peppers pair well, especially the ones that have marinated in a spicy vinaigrette, and kalamata olives deliver the perfect punch! Just check out this olive bar photo to get in the mood.
Prepare a few descriptive adjectives about each cheese before you serve it—it’s a fun way to put on a few pounds before the party, but hey…we all have to do our homework! Use a separate knife for each cheese and, obviously, group like-smelling cheeses, otherwise (as the song goes) ya gotta keep ‘em separated!

Parting tip about cheese for your next killer risotto: Use cheese rinds in your cooking; it’s perfectly edible and will flavor a rice, casserole or soup like nobody’s business. Parmigiano Reggiano is ideal for this. As far as what drinks are loveliest to wash your cheeses down with, I searched high and low before I was satisfied and found this article, worth pinning to Pinterest: Some exciting drink pairing for cheese.
Enjoy your cheese within 24 hours of unwrapping it, and be sure to refrigerate between uses…I’m off to carve off a little more of that Santori….

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