Cheese, Please

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The perils of growing older usually involve strange aches and pains, a lack of interest in staying out all night and the desire to just slow things down a bit. However, the pleasures of getting old involve securing a full night’s rest, a certain level of wisdom (yea, right!) and parties that don’t involve keggers, jello shots and hip Hollywood clubs at 4am.

One of my best friends has just turned thirty-something and decided on a rather mature and refined birthday gathering: the Sunday brunch party.

Oh, how I love Sunday brunch. No, I mean, really, I love it. Like I get all excited over it. The glory of a Sunday brunch allows you to sleep in, relax, meet with friends, eat and drink and still be home in time for a nap and dinner. What’s not to love about that? And besides, my biggest gripe with the eating habits of us Americans is that we never really get together long enough to enjoy a long, slow meal. Brunch is the only meal that implies relaxation, and that suits me just fine. It also means there will be champagne involved. God bless the brunch.

The birthday brunch would be a collaborative effort. Knowing my enthusiastic love of cheese, the birthday girl asked if I wouldn’t mind bringing a cheese tray to brunch since she knows my world tends to revolve around cheese. Of course I’d do anything for her, so I gladly accepted. Besides, she’s a lover of all things delicious and she introduced me to her mom’s Cookie Salad, but more on that some other time.

Cheese seems to mystify and confuse people. I hear from friends and family that there are just too many cheeses out there to know which ones to pick. And this leads to a lack of exploration of cheeses. People stick to the yellow stuff and never venture beyond it. You see this tear? I’m crying. It honestly makes me sad.

But don’t be intimidated. It’s easy to explore the world of cheeses.

For most occasions, a selection of 3 to 5 cheeses is sufficient enough to please most guests. Cheese pairing is quite simple–you choose the cheeses you like the most. A great way to select cheeses is to choose contrasting tastes and textures; balance the sweet with the pungent, the firm with the creamy. You may also select cheese from different milk categories, starting with a goat’s milk cheese then moving on to cow’s or sheep’s milk. When it comes time to taste, remember to start with the lightest or mildest cheese first before moving onto your stronger, more robust cheeses.

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If you can’t decide whether to serve bread or crackers along with your cheeses, remember that both are fine and it’s simply a matter of taste. In fact, the differences in texture will enhance the diversity of your cheeses.

And don’t forget fresh fruit, which compliments cheeses well. A selection of ripe fresh fruit such as apples pears, grapes and figs pair beautifully with all sorts of cheeses.

And although it might sound kind of geeky, small tags or a listing of cheeses being tasted always helps out.  I find that people are willing to try new cheeses if they know what they are eating.  A list could include the country of origin, the type of milk, whether it’s a young cheese or if it’s been aged a few years.

I’m happy to report that the brunch was a smashing success– I’m sure the bloody mary bar had something to do with it! The cheese tray was a hit as well, and I take great satisfaction in being able to introduce old friends and new acquaintances to some of my favorite foods on earth.

Here’s a toast to cheese, to my friend Dana, and to getting old. Well, two out of three ain’t bad.

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Some cheese bits…

Preparation: Unwrap your cheeses and arrange on the serving platter of your choice at least one hour before guests arrive. This gives your cheeses time to reach room temperature and show their true taste. Some cheeses, like those made from goat’s milk, may require a little extra time.

Timing:  For super soft cheeses such as brie, allow plenty of time to make it runny, but never microwave it. Runny is good! And remember, as freaky as they look, most rinds are actually edible.

Order: Start with the mildest cheeses before moving on to those that pack a flavorful punch. Cheeses such as stiltons and roqueforts overpower many of their delicate, younger counterparts.

Ask! Never be afraid to ask your cheesemonger or sales clerk for a recommendation. I’ve found that people are passionate about cheese and always willing to offer suggestions and tips.

Coming up soon: A few of my favorite cheeses and why I’ll never grow weary of them.

Comments

  1. says

    I bought some brie at the usually dependable Fairway the other day. I don’t know if a) it went bad, b) brie can actually be that strong, or c) I have no taste when it comes to cheese, but, yegads!!!, this was just plain disgusting. I threw the whole wedge away.

  2. says

    Are those green beans in the Bloody Marys?

    You just inspired me to head down to my local cheese shop and pick up some cheeses. Monte Enebro, I’m looking at YOU.

  3. says

    ahhhh brunch. yes, god bless the brunch. this sounds like it was a wonderful, leisurely time had by all in attendance! i love that you can devote entire blog posts to cheese and NOBODY EVERY GETS BORED with it because a) it is such a worthy topic, and b) you do cheese the justice it deserves.

    you are my cheeseman.

    and excuse me – COOKIE SALAD??? I WANT PHOTOS & A RECIPE!!!

  4. says

    Hey, Matt,

    Not everyone who reads your site reads mine, but I would like anyone who happens up this to know that I went to my cheese shop, inspired as I was, and learned that Bob Furber, the cheesemonger who worked there, cutting the wheels and educating people like me about cheese, died two weeks ago.

    I posted about it at my site, and would just like to send some love in his direction. You know, in the spirit world.

    Thank you again for everything you do. You are heartful and hilarious. Someday I hope to pronounce your last name correctly.

  5. says

    matt, perhaps you should invite me over and we can shoot a fabulous episode of our new hit tv show, “someone’s in the kitchen with dana!” this week’s subject: the infamous cookie salad.

    hehehe.

    btw, THANK YOU SO MUCH for everything you contributed to the party…even though you left early, the legend of “those boys who brought the cheese” lingered long after the last guest wandered home.

    you rock! xoxo!

  6. cynny says

    another steller blog. i tell you matt your pictures are devine….and you love cheese almost as much as i do. amazing.

  7. says

    Glad to see you passing on the cheese knowledge. Cheese can be such an imposing subject for many people. So many names that they can’t pronounce! So many different types! Goat’s Milk? Sheep’s Milk? Can I eat that blue stuff? Having a good cheese shop with a great staff is definitely the place to start learning. Try as many things as you can. Ask questions. Let them know things that you’ve tried and have liked. Making friends with the cheese guy is something you won’t regret. Fantastic site, by the way.

  8. says

    Hi Matt,

    I, too, am a cheeseoholic. I’m enjoying Mt. Tam, Humboldt Fog and just discovered Piacentinu di Enna with saffron and peppercorns. Can’t wait to hear about some of your favs.

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