by Buck Reed
For The Love Of Cheese
It is inevitable. The pandemic will eventually run its course, and the end of social distancing will be near. And sooner or later, you will be hosting a get-together, or better yet, an all-out party. You will need something delicious to eat, delightful to drink, music, ice, and, of course, the inevitable cheese tray.
Now, a cheese tray could be the low hanging fruit of what could be a boring food table. You can phone it in because everybody will grab something from it even if it is run of the mill. But I say, with a little effort and a bit of flair, the cheese tray can be the crowning centerpiece that holds the table together. Dare to be great!
First, get rid of the idea that a cheese tray needs to be just cheese and crackers. Today’s trends are moving toward charcuterie boards, and I say if a trend fits, turn into it. Do not be afraid to add a sliced cured meat to your tray. Salami, mortadella, or prosciutto would make great choices.
Another alternative to “just cheese” is to add a ramekin of olives or nuts to your board. These will add a different texture and flavor to your cheese varieties. Do not forget the fruit. Seedless grapes and strawberries add a bit of color to your tray, as well as a great pairing for your cheeses. Think of pear slices if you are considering a Bleu cheese for your presentation.
Another marvelous addition would be a condiment or two. Honey can be drizzled over your cheese and cracker bite and would be a fantastic pairing. Of course, there is also a spicy or sweet mustard to excite your taste buds. And, if you are thinking about a wedge of brie, you might want to add some fig jam. Trust me, you will not regret it.
Depending on how many guests you are expecting, the number of different cheeses should be between three and six, as less tends to be more. Something familiar like cheddar or Swiss is a good start, followed by something fancier like a Gouda or fontina. Depending on how many types you plan on serving, you might want something more exotic to add like a Limburger or something from the bleu family. If you decide on these, you might want to create a cheese ball, cutting the pungent flavor with cream cheese.
When I was a Garde Manger Chef on the cruise ships, we had to make a cheese tray for happy hour every day. Since modesty left me a long time ago, I can tell you that I was known as the King of the Four-and-a-Half-Minute Cheese Tray. My trick was to always make a border with one kind of sliced cheese and just layer the rest in the middle, with a wedge or two here or there or a cheese ball at the top. I suspect you will not be in as much of a hurry as I was, so you might have the time to place your offerings a bit more carefully. But there is no reason why you cannot become the master of your own cheese tray.
Now, all you have to do is create a dessert they will never forget. Maybe cheesecake.