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Wednesday, December 11. 2013
Re-posted - Photo is a simple cheese board for dessert for about 6 dinner guests
Good cheeses must be treated with respect because plenty of effort, time, and pride goes into making them for you, and the tasty ones are mostly expensive. People always put out cheese and crackers at holidays. Here are The Barrister Family Rules and Tips about serving cheese:
1. The only thing Whole Foods (or whatever it's called now) is good for is the cheese department. That is quite good, and often the Cheese Man is somewhat knowledgeable and will give you a taste.
2. Best grocery cheese dept? Definitely Fairway. Best source of that Irish hard cheese - Dubliner - and of un-aged goat cheese? Costco. We love goat cheese. In Manhattan, Grace's Market has good, unusual, unpasteurized cheeses, and it's a fun shop for foodies. Also, the Grand Central Market in Grand Central Station has tons of tasty stuff including fancy cheeses.
3. Cheese as an appetizer or an hors d'oeuvre? Never. It's not done, not proper except as part of an Italian antipasto and even then only a couple of thin tasting slices. It wrecks the appetite and is too taste-powerful to precede a pleasant dinner.
4. Cheese should always be served at room temp, never cold. If a soft cheese gets a bit melty, so much the better because that's what it is meant to do.
5. Assorted cheeses on a buffet table? Of course. A Cheese Board as an after-dessert savory or, as I prefer, instead of dessert? Definitely.
But served how? Our theories on the topic are below the fold -
Well, for starters they often say to provide around 3 lbs. of cheese per 20 people. A mix of soft cheeses, stinky soft cheeses, Blues (I like Stilton but there are many varieties), and a hard cheese (Pecorino is my favorite, but I do like that tangy Dubliner too). People always enjoy a good mix of unusual cheeses. As a rule, I avoid the rubbery American cheddars which are only suitable for cheeseburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches. If you like orange-colored cheese, Double Gloucester is nice.
To assemble a nice cheese board (cheese platter) to be passed around after dinner, things that are good to include are nuts (eg pecans and walnuts), dried fruits, grapes, sliced fresh fruit (apple and pear), and fresh figs. Some plain water crackers and sliced baguette, and it's done. Many people (including the Chief Cheese Buyer of Fairway) believe that cheese should always be served with choices of jams, honey, and chutney. Red Chili jelly is great. This weekend somebody put out plates of goat cheese logs sitting on pools of apricot jelly with water crackers. Perfect combo. Here are some pairing ideas.
Cheese is not meant to be eaten alone, but I'll make an exception for a Stilton:
What about baked Brie in a puff pastry for dessert, with a side of jam? Great stuff, but I would not put it on a cheese board. It's its own special thing.
Red wine, port, and sweet sherry are really good with that dessert cheese board. Even a sweet Riesling. Stilton + Port were made for eachother.
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My Significant Other is a regular buyer of the Babyfoot wine shown in the picture.
They have several flavors she really likes.
We also like the Barefoot brands too, plus many of the Aussie brands. They're fair priced, and far better than many of the domestic brands, that, oddly, have become pricy and declining in quality.
We've also grown to accept many of our local Eastern vineyards that produce these days. Most of our locals have excellent products, but the prices are a touch steeper than the big-producers. One, we used to frequent, that was affordable just recently, jacked up their prices to over $20\bottle, 'since we're now popular'. Not for this wallet.
"3. Cheese as an appetizer or an hors d'oeuvre? Never. It's not done, not proper except as part of an Italian antipasto and even then only a couple of thin tasting slices."
Absolutely, totally ridiculous, of course. Cheese for snack. Cheese for lunch. Cheese for appetizer. Cheese for hors d'oeuvre. Cheese for main course. Cheese for dessert. Cheese for cracker barrel around the fire after dessert. It's always appropriate. Always!!
Agreed! I like nothing better than a crisp white and a little cheese and crackers, perhaps with a little hard salami on the side. Sheesh, what snobbery!
Will second Trader Joe's for the cheese although the variety can vary. But, I know I can count on getting Cabot cheddar there - one of the things I miss about not being in New England anymore.
For those in the greater Boston area, I recommend a trip to Marblehead and a visit to Shubie's Liquor on Atlantic Ave.
Shubie's has grown to become an amazing place, and at this time of year absolutely essential for laying in supplies for entertaining. The ladies behind the cheese counter are extremely knowledgeable and will help you determine which cheese will work for your needs. If you ask for a cheese they don't have, they will search their books to find a correct replacement. You can get a sample of anything they offer and you should indulge.
I have to agree. We're all cheese lovers here. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything between and around. My favorite is brie or a homemade chevre with some of my own peach chutney. My youngest keeps begging for goats so we can make more cheese. [Not happening until she can pay for and maintain good fences.]
Whole Foods for Cheese? Sure if the average price of $25 per pound doesn't curdle your whey.
Whole Foods is the Nantucket of grocery stores: "Why Pay Less?"
If it does, try a good sized Trader Joe's for a lot of cheese needs.
Whole Foods (unfortunately) blows away the cheese selection at TJ's. The selection that is, price is another matter.
Stark tragedy in my hometown of Weymouth, the local market in the center of town, Johnnies Foodmaster, is defunct. Decent selection, very good service, very good prices. All in all a good blue collar market in a blue collar town. To be replaced with a Whole Paycheck Foods, which won't be opening for another year.
Fairway. I agree completely. Been to one in Long Island while visiting friends, seven or eight feet of Olive Oil tasting bar with fresh chucks of bakery bread. (Died and Gone to Heaven).
Same thing with Wegmans - they have an excellent cheese monger, but their prices are way higher than other vendors. Found a nice Fontina cheese for fondu, and its around $15\pound. We use it sparingly...
The whole notion of a specialty area (fresh bread, open serving bar, pizzeria, bakery, etc) that (almost) comprises 1/2 the store is wonderful, and it does explain their prices. Its an indulgence several times a year, for quality and experience.
On the West coast Fred Meyers has a good variety of cheese without the high price. My favorite cheese for cooking (quiche, onion soup and pasta) is gruyere. A good gruyere to try at least once is the cheese made over the summer high in the alps called "Le Gruyère Switzerland AOC Alpage". I had this variety often when I lived in Germany but I haven't found it here. No problem it is good and arguably tastier then the regular variety but too expensive. I pay about $16 lb for gruyere which to me is expensive but it is good. We have our local cheddar which is very good and no more the $2.50 lb.
I live in Bergen County, NJ and while we have a nearby Whole Foods and Fairway, I highly recommend the Westside Markets in Manhattan and their associated location, Maywood Market, in Maywood, NJ. Fairway is a nice store, but I almost always buy my cheeses in Maywood.
Wegmans has a very good assortment of cheeses. DiBruno Brothers in Philadelphia has wonderful cheeses, their Parmesan Reggiano is simply the best I have found domestically. Their website at Dibruno.com lists only a small proportion of what their two Philly stores stock.
A good friend is a farmer who makes his own raw milk cheeses and markets them mostly in local farmers markets. His Camembert and Taleggio rank with any imports I have ever experienced. Another local Amish farmer makes an extraordinary aged Cheddar, among other cheeses.
I did not know cheddar cheese is not actually orange until I tried, and became addicted to, 4 year old Canadian cheddar.
One of my shameful secret bad habits is German Handkäse, which makes Limburger smell nice.
Try serving cheese "with music", namely raw onions. When your guests ask where's the music, tell them it comes later. An almost perfect example of German humour.
Found all of these weird cheeses and bad jokes on a trip to Germany, in a little village called Nieheim, which has huge cheese festival every couple of years.
Whole Foods has many fine departments besides the cheeses. At least their store on Duke Street here in Alexandria VA does.
Their problem, as others allude to, is that their nickname is "Whole Paycheck".
Easy to forget that even the best grocery chains produce a profit of only 1-2% because of all the "wasteage/spoilage/breakage," that's just part of that business!
"Whole Paycheck" takes a bit more pride in its range of choices and overall quality than most grocery stores, although our local Kroeger's are upgrading to compete with them. (Don'tcha just love capitalism?)
Some of the absolutely best spinach I ever cooked and tasted was from California, but purchased from the Whole Foods in Darien, CT! Yeah, the mark-up was about 70% higher than the usual stuff found elsewhere, but the flavor and quality of that produce I haven't found anywhere else, even other Whole Foods! Its little things like that, which make you appreciate WF!
If you are within driving distance of Cincinnati, or just passing through, try Jungle Jim's. The cheese selection is 5+X a typical Trader Joe's, at reasonable prices. Beer and Wine have a great selection, as well.
Could you please make suggestions regarding cutting the cheese?
1 - depending on the cheese, the harder it is, it needs to be a touch warmer to cut - leave it stand in the air for a few moments before cutting.
2- you don't need Japanese\German steel, but a fairly sharp knife seems to work for me.
3- stay away from the gimmicks - never had good results from those cheese wire slicing thingies...
The Wegmans cheese monger gave me these several years ago - and they've worked just fine.
Think this ties in nicely. Sent the link to my sister. This was her response: #13!!!! OMG – brilliant!!!