Tips On Buying Cheese:
Cheese shops, gourmet food stores and upscale supermarkets usually offer the most interesting, diverse selection of cheese. These specialty stores tend to sell a lot of cheese, so you can be sure that the cheeses they offer are fresh. The merchants at such stores are skilled at handling and storing cheese properly, and can assist you in making a good selection. Whenever possible have the cheese sliced fresh for you.
When creating a cheese course, select a variety of cheeses that represent different textures, flavors and milk types.
Texture: soft, semi-soft, semi-firm, hard, blue-veined
Flavor: gentle, mild, strong, sharp
Milk Type: cow, goat, sheep
Typically, the cheese course is served between the main course and dessert, creating a transition from savory to sweet. It is also the perfect accompaniment to any wine that remains unconsumed from the entree. Many people give up dessert altogether, preferring to focus their attention on a variety of cheeses and wines. Cheese can be served before a meal as a hors d'oeuvre, but choose wisely: Too many cheeses - especially those that are too rich or too strong - can cloy the palate and dull the appetite for the food that is to come.
Basic Guidelines For Serving Cheese:
•Limit the assortment of cheeses to about four to six different types.
•Keep the portions small. If individually plating the cheeses, serve about 1 1/2 ounces per cheese. Four people, four cheeses: 6 ounces total of cheese. Four people, six cheeses: 9 ounces total of cheese. Remember that this comes after two or three courses, and maybe before one more. If serving the cheeses on a platter or pedestal, buy attractive pieces of cheese, and reserve leftovers for another use.
•Let the cheeses come to room temperature before serving - never serve cheese cold.
•For a casual occasion, serve the cheeses on a spacious platter with the appropriate knives for each cheese: Sharp cheese knives for hard cheese and a blade that allows you to scoop and spread for soft cheese.
•If a cheese is particularly runny or pungent in aroma, it is best served on a separate plate so as not to overwhelm other milder cheeses.
•For more formal occasions, bring out clean knives and forks for the cheese course. Cut individual portions of cheese and arrange them on cheese or salad plates. Present them with appropriate accompaniments; pass bread and crackers separately.
Select accompaniments that won't compete with the flavors and aromas of the cheeses, but will complement their characteristics.
• Slices of high quality European-style breads, preferably ones with crusty exteriors, are the ideal accompaniment to most cheeses. While some people prefer the neutral palette of plain bread, others like flavored breads. Breads with nuts - particularly walnuts - are lovely with most strong cheeses. Breads with dried fruits and olives are also good partners to many cheeses.
• If you must serve crackers, choose ones that are as plain as possible so that they do not compete with the cheese.
• Olives, dried fruits (such as dates, figs, cherries and apricots) and nuts (such as walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts) are suitable companions.
• Chutneys, fruit pastes, honeys and salads - often studded with nuts and fruit - also make delicious accompaniments. In England, Cheddar is often partnered with a homemade chutney or relish; in Spain, Manchego is usually served with membrillo, a quince paste; and in Italy, Gorgonzola is often teamed with honey. And in most cheese-loving countries, salad is typically served just before, with or just after the cheese.
Pairing Wines & Cheese
Generalizations about what wines to serve with cheeses can be dangerous. There are dozens of different styles of goat cheese, for instance, from young, sweet, ricotta-textured ones to aged, acid-sharp, almost Parmigiano-textured ones, and the spectrum of wines that match them follows the same gamut. Even the degree of a cheese's ripeness can affect the wine selection.
How do you cut through the confusion? The happy answer is it's hard to find a really bad wine and cheese match. Some wine choices are better than others, but few will make you cringe. Here are some general guidelines to simplify wine and cheese pairing:
•In general, younger, lighter wines go better with younger, fresher cheeses. Example: A fruity white wine such as Vouvray, or a light red wine like Beaujolais, pairs beautifully with a mild, semi-soft Banon (a goat cheese from Provence).
•Older, bigger red wines pair well with most aged cheeses, but not with blue-veined cheeses. Example: A big, gutsy red Barolo from the Piedmont region of Italy is classically paired with the deep, mellow nuttiness of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
•Stylistically "big" red wines of certain types do not usually pair well with any cheese. So before you match up a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello di Montaleno, Super Tuscan or big Rhone (Hermitage, Cote Rotie, Gigondas, Chateauneuf de Pap) with your favorite Brie, consider the style in which the particular wine is made. Because, while a medium-bodied, well-balanced version of one of these wines may complement cheese nicely; a big, thick version of these same wines will not.
•Wines with some sweetness make the best match for very strong cheeses, especially blue-veined cheeses. Examples: A sweet Port and strong-flavored blue-veined Stilton is, perhaps, the quintessential wine-cheese combination. The pungency of ripe, soft Muenster is tamed by a slightly sweet, very rich, late harvest Alsatian Gewurztraminer.