Cheese trays are a weekend tradition at my house. I didn’t grow up this way and my mother still thinks I’m a bit of an odd bird for always having one out before dinner when company comes but I think it’s the perfect way to great a guest. A bite and a glass is what you’ll be offered when you enter my house. So, come one and come all — just don’t all come at once.
With the holidays in full swing and parties being thrown this way and that, it’s the ideal time to brush up on our cheese edict. What, you didn’t have a cheese edict course in school? Well, neither did I but fortunately Whole Foods is there to back us up. I recently went to a “Cheese Night” at my favorite Whole Foods Market (Park Lane in Dallas if you were wondering). Now, I thought I knew a fair amount about throwing together a cheese course for entertaining but what I learned the other night, just proved I don’t know it all!
It was a small, casual, and free event held right in the store. Brandi, our fabulous cheese specialist, served a variety of cheeses with wine and beer pairings and preached the awesomeness that is the world of cheese. From simple flavor pairings to how to properly serve cheese to reach it’s full potential, the Whole Foods Cheese Night was fun and informative. My eyes are wide open Brandi — cheese is now at the top of my list! If you ever get a chance to attend one of these short classes, I would certainly grab it. Until then, I will relay some of the tips and tricks I learned and give you a chance to win a $75 Whole Foods Gift Card so you too can grab a few of these amazing pairings and have yourself a great holiday.
5 tips for the perfect cheese tray
1. Know your audience and how flavor adventurous they may or may not be. If they are extreme foodies go for the gold and break out the stronger or more unique cheeses. Try washed rind cheeses like a St. Soleil, unique blue cheeses, soft and hard goat cheese, and creamy yet flavorful triple cream cheeses like Explorateur (which I just had for the first time and fell out of my chair). For the less adventurous stick to the basics like cheddar, gouda, swiss, manchego, and brie.
2. Keep in mind your party size. Plan on serving 3 cheese options if your party includes dinner or up to 6 options if you’re serving appetizers/small plates only. Figure on serving 3 ounces of cheese per person if serving dinner or 6 ounces of cheese per person without dinner. Here’s a budget friendly tip, typically the older a cheese is the more expensive. If you’re on a budget the younger cheeses are a good option.
3. Serve cheese at room temperature. Just one more thing you can prepare and get out of the way before the chaos of the party hits. If cheese wasn’t awesome enough already, it just got better— right?
4. It’s all in the cut. If you choose to pre-slice the cheese which can be very convenient for guests, try to cut a slice that includes both the center of the cheese as well as closer to the rind to taste a cheese’s full potential.
5. Have a little fun. Serve cheese with food, beer, and wine pairings to liven things up. Above all serve what you like, use a little creative license, and don’t stress over it. There’s no such thing as the cheese police or at least that I’m aware of.
from l to r: manchego+salted marcona almonds+quince paste; blue cheese+orange blossom honey+ toasted almonds+crisps; brie+pesto+crackers; washed rind St.Soleil+french baguette cheeses and pairings
Keep in mind that I am not a cheese expert but here are a few simple cheeses and pairings that I enjoy and some that were served during the event that I was very fond of. By no means do you have to serve all of these cheeses, wines, and beers — they are merely suggestions.
Cheddar – it’s classic with a rich nutty flavor. Mild, sharp, and aged there are a variety of cheddars. I like a simple slightly aged cheddar. It’s friendly for everyone, especially kids.
- Food pairings: apple and pear slices, cured meats, crackers, spicy nuts
- Wine and beer pairings: (Wine) Cabernet Sauvignon (Beer) Pale Ales and Bitters
Manchego – firm with a developed nutty but not strong flavor. One of my favorites and a good all-around cheese to serve.
- Food pairings: Pear slices, honey, quince paste (a firm sweet jelly made from quince), flavored nuts such as salted roasted marcona almonds, olives
- Wine and beer: (Wine) Cabernet or other deep body reds (Beer) Czech or Bohemian pilsners
Brie, Camembert, and triple creams – Mildly rich and creamy, these cheeses are indulgent.
- Food pairings: both sweet and savory work well. Pears, apples, grapes, cherries, and chutneys for the sweets and pestos for the savory. Crackers and fresh breads work well too. Try this: Roasted Grapes with Baked Brie
- Wine and Beer pairings: (Wine) Champagne or a floral white wine like a Viognier
Blue Cheese – bold and very flavorful cheese with distinct blue marbling
- Food pairings: candied walnuts, almonds, honey, bread or crackers with fruit and nuts, figs, pears
- Wine and Beer pairings: (Wine) Port or Rieslings (Beer) American IPA
Washed Rind Cheeses – St.Soleil, Taleggio,Red Hawk – bold, very strong, and pungent
- Food pairings: fresh baguette, crackers, nuts
- Wine and Beer pairings: (Wine) American West Coast Riesling or strong bold reds (Beer) Belgian Ale, Hard Cider, IPA
Hopefully, I’ve peeked your interest in serving a cheese tray at your next party because they are simply the easiest thing you could ever serve. The best part about it, is that you don’t have to be an expert. If you have any questions or just want someone else to create a cheese tray for you, the cheese specialist at any Whole Foods are happy to help. I’m not just saying that either — I’m there every weekend and am always asking for suggestions.
Whole Foods Market and I would love for you to create your own perfect cheese tray for your holiday season. Enter to win a $75.00 Whole Foods gift card to use as you choose. The giveaway ends December 18, 2013, and the gift card will be sent immediately to the winner electronically once the winner is verified.
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disclaimer: this post is sponsored by Whole Foods Market. All opinions are always my own.