The Holiday Cheese Board: From Appetizer to Dessert The Holiday Cheese Board: From Appetizer to Dessert
The love of cheese is international. From the ancient days of Greece to today’s “happy” cheese-making cows of California, cheese stands as a common denominator between the grilled cheese sandwich and a Port and cheese dessert course.
Serving a cheese course as dessert, or preparing an appetizer cheese board, is one of the most interesting and delicious options to offer your guests. Cheese is the perfect connection between sweet and savory courses because there are elements of both sweet (milk) and salty. Here are some suggestions for putting together an easy but sophisticated holiday offering:
Hard and Fast Rules for Serving Cheese in any Venue:
• Always serve cheese at room temperature. A hard cheese, such as Parmesan, may take up to an hour to reach room temperature, while softer cheeses, such as Mozzarella, will take only half the time.
• Leave the cheese wrapped as it assumes room temperature. Unwrap just before serving and throw away the wrapper. Use a new wrapper each time the cheese is placed back in the refrigerator, to keep at maximum freshness. Wrap each cheese separately, even when two cheeses are identical. Leave the rind of a cheese intact until serving.
• Serve each cheese on an individual board, tray or platter, without raised edges. Make certain the cheese sets flush to the surface.
The Cheese Board as Appetizers:
For each cheese, you’ll need a small wooden cheese board, slab of marble or granite or a tray. If you must combine the cheeses on one tray, allow at least two inches between each cheese. If serving more than five additional appetizers, keep the cheese selection to three or four choices. With fewer additional appetizers, consider serving five cheeses.
A selection of cheeses of differing types and textures, and from differing countries is always a great way presentation. An option is to “theme” the selection by offering all American cheeses, all French, all Italian, etc. – or even a selection of one type of cheese -- good quality cheddars or blue-veined cheeses, such as Gorgonzola, Roquefort or Stilton.
Purchase whole cheeses, if practical, such as a whole Brie, or large wedged pieces. A separate knife is needed for each selection. Butter knives are not really adequate. Appetizer “spreader-type” knives will work for softer cheeses, but a good, sharp blade works for all. Attractive steak knives work, but a good utility knife will always treat a cheese with respect. If using the “spreader-type” appetizer knife, try to use only those with a handle long enough to support cutting the cheese.
A small card identifying each cheese and the country of origin is helpful and interesting to guests. Number the cards from one, through however many cheeses with the smallest number identifying the mildest cheese, and moving upward to the most intensely flavored.
Cheese as a Dessert Course – Three Ways to Serve:
Lingering at evenings-end over incredible cheeses and a fine vintage Port, or maybe a technically fortified Zinfandel, tends to forge a bond in friendships, and it’s easier and healthier than baking a pie.
• We think of serving a dessert cheese course with bread, and sometimes fruit, presented from the middle of the dining table. This works well if guests can reach the cheeses to serve themselves comfortably.
For more than four, consider:
• Individual serving plates, with individual portions of the cheeses, or...
• Cheese boards set on a buffet. Let guests serve themselves, then return to the table.
However you serve the course, utensils should be a fork and a knife with a good cutting edge, and basket of warm, crusty bread.
Preparing individual cheese plates makes a sophisticated and delectable presentation. A three-cheese selection needs one-and-a-half ounces to two ounces of each cheese. Arrange fruits between each selection.
Three to four cheeses make the proper assortment. Try adding a small wedge of cheesecake, perhaps with a drizzle of pecan praline sauce or your favorite cheesecake adornment. Pears, apples, and melon wedges work with almost any cheese. A simple, warm and crusty, bread is essential to the evening.
If the evening is with friends who often share cheese, bread and wine with you, conversation doesn’t need to focus on the elements of the dessert course. If the setting is new friends or business acquaintances, spend some time – brief or prolonged, depending on the vibes around the table – and give some history of the cheeses and the wine. Guiding guests, through the milder before the more vigorously flavored, is a good idea.