As the holiday season approaches, many of us rack our brains wondering what to serve or bring to the assortment of parties and gatherings that come with the “the most wonderful time of the year.”

We’ve got you covered. Cheese.

Whether you want to host a cheese tasting party or simply prepare a cheese platter to serve prior to a meal, the holidays are simply better with cheese. Use it as an excuse to try new cheese varieties while revisiting those old favorites. Consider the following when planning your cheese tasting or cheese platter:

Decide on a Theme. Perhaps you want to serve all cow’s milk cheeses, or cheeses specifically produced in your state or locality. Or you want to focus on a particular flavor of cheese – say cheddar – but serve different varieties of that flavor. If pairing is your jam, perhaps you want to choose a handful of cheeses and serve them paired with mini tasters of wines or beers.

Choose your Cheeses Wisely. Depending on your “theme”, you will want to carefully select a variety of cheeses with a varying flavor (mild to strong), color hues, and textures (smooth to crumbly), keeping in mind guests at the party. Choose a few “safe bet” cheeses with mild flavors, and choose one “daring” cheese with bold new flavors – something that your guests likely haven’t tried before.

Consider the Amount. A good rule of thumb is 1-1 ½ ounces of cheese per person if the cheese is the appetizer course and a larger meal is to follow. If the cheese tasting is the “meal,” consider upwards of 6 ounces of cheese per person.

Display like a Pro. Serve your cheeses on wood cutting boards, marble or granite slabs or tiles, serving trays or small mirrors. Make available appropriate serving utensils – such as toothpicks, tongs, cheese knifes, butter knifes (for spreadable cheeses), etc. Consider buying larger pieces of cheese that guests can cut from while also cutting some of the cheeses into bite-sized pieces of varying shapes – the contrast makes for a nice display. Don’t forget simple signs identifying the cheeses. Complement your cheeses by serving them alongside a variety of fresh fruits (grapes, apples and pears pair well), dried fruits (try dried apricots or cherries), nuts, crackers, sliced meats, olives, pickles, fresh fruit preserves and French baguette slices. Cheese is best served at room temperature – allow the cheeses to sit out for 20 minutes to 1 hour prior to guests arriving, depending on the sizes and textures of your cheeses. Our friend at Joyful Healthy Eats has some tips on how to make the ultimate cheese board.

Dare to Pair. Complement the rich, smooth and nutty flavor of a Mild Cheddar with a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pilsner or a Wheat Beer. If your choice is a buttery Gouda, balance it with a Syrah/Shiraz, a Pale Lager or a Nut Brown Ale. Try a Riesling, hard cider or Porter to bring out the flavors of a Gorgonzola cheese. For more ideas on pairings, check out some ideas from Eat Wisconsin Cheese.

Categories: Recipes