Cheese board 101: Tips to impress guests


This artful arrangement of cheeses includes L’Amuse Gouda, right.
This artful arrangement of cheeses includes L’Amuse Gouda, right. Photo by Emily Ryan

 

To entertain with ease this holiday season, just say, “cheese.”

“Everyone loves cheese, and you can never really disappoint anybody by putting out a nice cheese board,” suggested Michael Montesano of Montesano Bros. Italian Market & Catering in Eagle and Bucktown.

“It’s a good conversation piece,” he added. “And it gets people interacting with each other. Plus, it’s absolutely delicious!”

Chef Christine Kondra couldn’t agree more. She and her husband recently opened Cornerstone Cheese & Charcuterie in Wayne.

“I get really excited about it,” said Kondra, who selects cheese from around the world. “We really try to tell the story, highlighting the farms and where the cheese comes from.”

Need help choosing cheese for a party?

“You want to hit a lot of different consistencies and textures,” explained Cornerstone general manager Alli Luchey. “You want a hard. You want a soft, a goat, a blue, something sharp, and we carry a lot of unique and funky cheeses.”

“It’s always fun to throw something with a little more character on there,” she continued.

With its “awesome bright pink rind,” a cheese named Bathed in Victory, Hop Devil from The Farm at Doe Run always stands out. So does Luchey’s favorite: L’Amuse Gouda, “which is out of this world.”

Kondra likes the Spanish cheese Gamonedo, a blend of sheep’s, goat’s and cow’s milk.

“It’s aged, and it’s smoked for three months,” she described. “You can actually smell the mustiness from the cave. It’s a really complex cheese.”

Back at Montesano Bros., a green-hued cheese called Pesto Verde catches customers’ attention. There’s also a red version.

Or combine the colors of the season by rolling a goat-cheese log in dried cranberries and crushed pistachios. Serve alongside crackers, fresh fruit, spiced walnuts and charcuterie for a polished presentation.

“It makes a really nice festive look,” said John Serock, president of John Serock Catering in West Chester.

One last piece of cheese advice: “Smell it first,” Kondra stressed. “Don’t eat a cracker with it. Taste it on its own first.”

Then enjoy the accoutrements. Her customized cheese boards feature homemade compote, seasoned nuts and fresh honeycomb.

“Have you ever had fresh honeycomb?” Kondra asked. “It adds a sweetness. Just like a wine, it brings out the layers of a cheese.”

Festive Goat Cheese Log

Yield: 8 Servings

Ingredients

1 (4-ounce) log goat cheese
¾ cup pistachios, shelled
½ cup dried cranberries

Instructions

In a food processor, pulse pistachios until coarsely chopped. It is important not to grind too much. Remove pistachios, add the cranberries and pulse into fine pieces. Lay out a sheet of waxed paper. Mix the cranberries and nuts together and spread into a thin layer. Place goat cheese on top of nut/cranberry mixture and coat generously. Transfer to a serving platter and serve with crackers, grapes and strawberries.

*Note it is best to let the cheese come up to room temperature before serving.

Recipe courtesy of John Serock Catering

Perfect pairings — Don’t forget the wine!

Chef Christine Kondra pairs Ashbrook cheese from Spring Brook Farm with an acidic pinot noir. And she likes Plymouth Big Blue cheese with a sweet white like Erdener Prälat Riesling Auslese.

“The sweetness of the wine clings to the fat in the cheese for a great taste pairing,” Kondra said. “In the winter months, try a tawny port.”

Local cheesemakers also shared their favorite wine-and-cheese combos like The Farm at Doe Run’s Hummingbird cheese with a 2014 Discantus Rosé from Galloping Cat vineyard.

Yellow Springs Farm makes Nutcracker, an aged goat cheese marinated in black walnut liqueur, which “pairs very well with Tuscan red wines such as Sangiovese blends and Chianti,” said co-owner Catherine Renzi.

Or try Shellbark Hollow Farm’s Sharp 2 with a glass of Mahogany Va La, a red blend from Va La Vineyards.