Our Cheese Sommelier Vanessa Simmons offers her tips on how to add a delicious artisan cheese board as a final course with dinner or have a cheese platter ready when friends drop in over the holiday season. Whichever way you enjoy cheese, here are Vanessa’s quick tips & how tos. Enjoy & have a wonderful holiday!
Who are you entertaining (adventurous, conservative, children?). How long is the event? Will a meal or snacks be served? What are your favorite cheeses? Do you have a theme? If you don’t have a lot of time, go with small soft wheels of cheese (buy a few to have on hand, they make wonderful, from the heart hostess gifts).
Buy directly from the cheesemaker, from a reputable cheesemonger, or cheese counter. Taste in advance but buy as close as possible to your celebration. Always ask that a fresh wedge be cut for you. Look for artisan cheeses at Serious Cheese, The Piggy Market, Thyme & Again, The Red Apron, Jacobson’s Gourmet Concepts, Ottawa Bagelshop. Farm Boy and Sobey’s also have great holiday ideas. Find local Ottawa region cheesemakers at holiday farmers artisan markets at this time of year.
Mix it up
Consider taste, style and texture. Choose a theme — region, milk type (cow, sheep, goat, buffalo) or category (fresh, soft, semi-soft, washed, firm, hard, blue). 3-5 cheeses display well on a board or serve one stellar cheese as an appetizer, or dessert. Buying cheeses that look different will offer visual appeal to your table. 5-10gms/cheese/person is a good rule of thumb.
Serve cheese with star treatment
Serve at room temperature. Offer one knife per cheese. Don’t cut up small pieces in advance. Allow breathing room between cheeses so aromas don’t mix. Use an interesting wooden board, cross cut log, plate, slate or marble tiles or tiered trays for visual appeal. Keep it simple and your cheese will shine.
Compliment your cheese
Serve specialty breads, gourmet crackers, fresh seasonal or dried fruits, figs, dates, raw or toasted nuts, olives, caramelized or pickled onions or milder charcuterie items as accompaniments. Art-Is-In Bread, Seed To Sausage, Michael’s Dolce, Major Craig’s Chutney & Upper Canada Cranberries are very cheese friendly!
Be sure to serve wine or craft beer
In general most beers and wines pair best and more often with a wider variety of cheeses. The harder the cheese, the more tannic a wine (red wines naturally have tannins) it will stand up to. The creamier the cheese, the more acid required in the wine (white wines tend to have more acidity). Remember balance is key.
Talk about your cheese
What do you see, smell and taste? Share your experience. Compare notes. Conversations around the cheese board create lasting memories of your event. Cheese has evolved from being solely an ingredient to the focal point of a party of one of the courses on a dinner menu, as it’s the perfect food to bring people together.
Enjoy every last crumb
Slow down and savor each morsel. The holidays are a special time of year to make merry with friends, family (and cheese!). Take a break from hosting to enjoy yourself and the company of your guests.
Store cheese properly
Wrap leftovers of soft, semi-soft and washed rind cheeses in parchment or cheese paper, and pop into a small Tupperware or Ziplock bag. Refrigerate in a container in the vegetable drawer (for high humidity).