What cheeses should you get for a cheese course?
Until a few years ago I’d answer that question with what I’d learned as an event caterer. Go with a variety: a young soft cheese, an aged harder cheese, maybe a blue, maybe a goat or sheep’s milk option. Two ounces per person. That is still a safe and delicious way to go.
Spending time with cheese mongers and makers over the last decade, I’ve experienced a few other ways to serve a cheese course that are fun, educational and rather tasty.
Two or three versions of the same cheese aged for different lengths of time. For example, a young and extra-aged Comté. Or three different ages of Gouda. This is also great if you have different vintages of the wine from the same region.
Three goat cheeses: one fresh, one bloomy, one hard as a rock. Three blues. You get the idea.
Old World, New World
Try two clothbound cheddars, like Cabot from Vermont and Montgomery’s from England. Or a classic Swiss Gruyère and a cheese inspired by it, like Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Gouda from Holland, Gouda from Wisconsin.
One Giant Piece
I don't know exactly why but big cheese is way more fun than small cheese. Splurge for a four pound hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano and stab it with the old, weird knife you've had lurking in the drawer for all these years. (Bigger chunks last longer so you can continue to gnaw on it for weeks.)
Cheese as Aperitif
Cheese to start dinner, like the cocktail and cheese hour our parents knew, is a more American way to serve cheese than the formal, end-of-dinner French way. Try kicking the evening off with an unusual pairing, like cheese with a salty anchovy or a couple salt packed capers, where the cheese becomes the sweet part of the experience.
A sliver of Raw Milk Stilton with shards of dark chocolate. A small marble of aged gouda with a shot of espresso. If you’re serving dessert with sweet syrup, save some and drizzle it on the cheese.
This article appears in Zingerman's upcoming catalog Fall Food Buyer's Guide 2011.