Sunday, March 2, 2008
Impress Your Dinner Party Guests With A Delectable Cheese Platter
A great way to leave a lasting impression on your dinner party guests is to end the meal with a delectable cheese platter.
Cheese platters are traditionally the final course in most parts of the world. The cheese is eaten after dessert whilst in France the cheese may be eaten earlier. It is often served with a vintage port or a dessert wine.
Over the last 20 years, so many new cheeses have been developed so we are certainly not short on variety.
If you are going to serve a cheese platter, I'd suggest putting some thought in to what you will serve. You could visit a cheesemonger or cheese shop where you can get some advice and actually taste the cheeses for yourself. The benefit with the cheesemonger is that you can also ask advice on the wine that would best match the cheeses you select - that is if you really want to impress your guests.
For a visually interesting platter select a mix of hard sharp cheeses, soft creamy chesees and pungent blue cheeses. Consider a mix of flavors, textures, and colors and a variety in sizes and shapes. You should serve three to five types of cheese on your platter.
The cheeses need to be served at room temperature for their fullest flavor. They should be taken out of the refrigerator an hour to an hour and a half before serving. The cheeses will stay freshest when covered with parchment or waxed paper rather than in plastic wrap and left in the crisper drawer of your fridge. This avoids the plastic smell and taste that is often left by a plastic wrap. Make sure the cheeses are wrapped until just prior to serving.
It is best to serve the cheese with a grain - like plain crackers or crusty plain bread but avoid crackers with spices and black pepper that may interfere with the flavors of the cheese. Bread is the most interesting vehicle for cheese.
Consider sour dough bread or walnut bread. Spicy blue cheeses for instance go beautifully with honey-walnut bread. The nutty flavor goes fabulously with cheese, without being too overpowering. Pecan-raisin loaf or cranberry-walnut bread with nuts and fruits can be served as other options.
As a general rule, soft cheeses go with light crusty breads while stronger breads go with more tangy breads such sourdoughs.
One of the most delightful things about a cheese platter is that accompaniments are added to the platter to match each of the cheeses which truly create that lasting taste sensation you're after.
These can include:
- quince or fig jam or paste
- muscatel grapes
- fresh pear
- fresh apple
- rocket leaves
- condiments such as chutneys or wine jellies
These also add color and you can present the platter artistically.
You should serve the cheeses on a large wooden or bamboo cutting board serving an odd number of cheeses on your platter - which is apparently more pleasing to the eye! In between them, arrange the accompaniments and condiments.
Arrange the cheese on a plate from mildest to strongest with your mildest starting at 12 o'clock. If you're not sure which is strongest, all you need to is smell it. Smellier cheeses are generally stronger tasting.
You should avoid anything citrus because it's far too acidic and will overwhelm your cheeses.
To cut the cheese your guests will need a cheese knife. Though many knives will work for slicing cheese some shapes are much better suited than others. The knife should be long enough to cut a nice sized piece of cheese off and have a wide enough blade to pick up the cheese after it is sliced. You will need a knife that has a rounded edge for easy spreading of softer cheeses like Brie or fresh goat's cheese. Try a knife like this:
Nothing beats serving dessert wines like Port, Tawny Port, Muscat, and Sauternes with strong blue cheeses. Milder cheeses can be overwhelmed by syrupy dessert wines, so avoid them if you are not serving strong cheeses and of course don't forget to serve water.
Stay tuned for more dinner party ideas soon.
The Hostess with the Mostess