December 4, 2013

Soup to Nuts: Say cheese for the holidays

From mild to bold, gooey to hard, the ever-growing number of varieties available locally boggles the mind. Here’s a primer.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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At The Cheese Iron in Scarborough, truffled cheeses, far left, and cave-aged taleggio from the Lombardy region of Italy are served with oven-roasted tomatoes.

Photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Colston Bassett English Stilton at The Cheese Iron.The Colston Bassett dairy has had only four cheesemakers in its 100 years of existence.

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Be warned: It runs about $40 a pound, but it’s worth it.

“This to me is the best blue cheese being made in the U.S.,” Whole Foods’ Tallman said. “It’s won best in show multiple times at the Cheese Society awards. It’s salty, it’s sweet. It was featured in Saveur magazine about four or five years ago in an article on ports, where they completely committed blasphemy by saying ‘Forget Stilton, serve this with ports.’ ”

What makes it so good? For one thing, it’s wrapped in Syrah grape leaves that have been soaked in pear brandy.

The cheese is made from certified-sustainable Brown Swiss and Holstein cow’s milk, according to the Rogue River website: “The cows graze in 1,250-foot-elevation pastures bordering Rogue River, where they eat a variety of pasture and native grasses, hop clover, wild herbs, Himalayan blackberries and wild flowers, supplemented with grass hay, alfalfa and grain off the ranch.”

CRACKERS, BREAD, FRUIT OR ???

Let’s face it, when we serve cheese at a party we automatically put out crackers, bread or fruit. Why? It just seems like it’s the right thing to do.

But that’s not necessarily the case.

If it’s a hard cheese you’re serving, a cracker, piece of toast or slice of baguette is just a vehicle to get the cheese into your body, says Tallman. You can forget those pairings and just serve the cheese “naked.”

Maniaci agrees. “You’re just going to eat it like candy,” he said. “You’re going to pick it up and pop it into your mouth, or you’re going to put it on a little slice of salami. It’s not always necessary to have a cracker or a baguette with a piece of cheese.”

If it’s a really rich and oozy cheese, spread it on bread the way you would spread it on butter. As a general rule, pair creamy cheeses with something crunchy, like a crusty baguette.

If the cheese is soft but still has some spring to it, go with a cracker. “I tend to lean away from very dense, brittle crackers because I think they give you too much Cap’n Crunch mouth and can ruin the experience,” Tallman said. “Don’t get in the way of the cheese.”

Unflavored, communion-wafer-thin water crackers are a better choice.

More expensive cheeses should be paired with plain crackers and bread, not those fancier brands studded with rosemary, garlic or other herbs. The flavor of the cracker shouldn’t interfere with the flavor of the cheese.

Fruit works well with cheese because it gives an instant sensation of salty-and-sweet in your mouth. It doesn’t have to be fresh fruit. Try some dried dates, dried apricots or a sliver of a dried fig.

Tallman prefers goat cheese served with pomegranate seeds. Just put some seeds on the bottom of a ramekin, mold the cheese on top, and refrigerate it overnight before unmolding it for serving.

Even citrus is OK, although you should probably avoid tropical fruits. If you’re serving an aged goat cheese or an aged sheep’s milk cheese, try clementines for a little burst of acidity.

“With cheeses, there are rules, but then there are no rules,” Tallman said. “It really comes down to what do you like, what can you get a hold of, and really knowing your guests.”

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Additional Photos

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Truffled cheeses at The Cheese Iron in Scarborough

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Ricciarelli with mascarpone cheese and cranberry chutney at The Cheese Iron

 


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