A cocktail reception prior to any rustic wedding woudn't be complete without a beautiful cheese selection. The saying goes, "People eat with their eyes, not their stomachs." Visually, you need to make sure the board or platter is full, but not overwhelming; colors, textures, height is all going to be taken into visual consideration. It needs to look good and taste good.
1. Add accoutrements that accentuate the cheeses, not overpower them.
- Jams that have a bit of a savory component such as Strawberry rosemary jam or Fig balsamic spread will blend nicely and add complexity to the textures and flavors of the cheeses.
- Roasting nuts with spices can add more flavor, smokiness and/or heat. Roasting nuts brings out their more robust, toasted flavor and releases oils that help the spices stick. Pistachios with curry powder or mixed nuts with chili powder and brown sugar are a few examples of an easy addition to your cheese board.
- Roasted vegetables
- Variety of olives; mixed colors for added eye visual appeal. Also will add saltiness and tang to the cheeses.
2. Go to an authentic local shop or reputable grocery store with a good cheese selection.
The authentic shop will more than likely have a different selection than a larger grocery store may have. My favorite part of going to a local shop is talking with the people directly and ask them lots of questions about what I am looking for. Their opinions are usually very helpful and spot on. A larger grocery may also have someone you can speak to if you have questions and suggestions. While discussing the different ones, as for a small sample to decide which ones you would like. (list of maine cheesemakers: http://www.mainecheeseguild.org)3. Purchase the appropriate amount according to the size of your board or platter.
Your board or platter size limits you to what you can fit on the display. It looks really great if you can place the accoutrements on the board or platter with the cheeses. It also makes items easier to take by your guests. Consider this as well as how many people you will be serving. People will most likely try a little bit of each, so if you have a larger party make sure you have enough backup to refill if necessary.
4. Avoid "processed milk product."
Stear clear from the processed fake stuff. It will not have the flavor of the true thing. It's like wanting to eat a banana and eating a banana flavored Runts candy. It's just not the same and can never measure up to the real thing. Know where it comes from; buy local varieties if available or imported from the particular country certain cheeses are known for.
5. Different types of cheese, varying in flavor and texture, are good to incorporate together.
- Soft cheeses tend to offer a lighter, creamier flavor. It's soft on the palette and has a buttery flavor. Such soft types as Camembert or Brie have rinds on them. This is a nice attribute to have if you are warming it prior to it being served. It is much easier to cut into soft cheeses if they are cold. Also, use a warm knife. The easiest way to do this is to run in under or dip it into warm water. Use a small cheese pallet knife as a serving utensil for your guests.
- Firm cheese can offer a sharp flavor, good texture and versatility on the board. Cutting them into small cubes or breaking it into smaller organic shapes, different sizes make it easy to pile or shape on the display surface. Save a large piece to show if possible. You can also shave it into thin slices; easy to eat and just enough flavor to add to the other components of your cheese display. Parmigiano Reggiano is always a must. Asiago is another favorite and readily available varietal. Cheddar is a bit less firm than the first two, but is still in the firm category. It will sometimes have an herb mixed in to add to the flavor. (http://www.parmigianoreggiano.com/made/parmigiano_reggiano_cheese/default.aspx)
- Semi firm cheese can be a versatile style that pairs well with many fruits. Varieties like Smoked Gouda or Havarti add a warmth to a sweet fruit or jam. These types can keep their shape if you cut them into rectangles, triangles, squares or cubes, making them good for stacking, shingling or piling up.
- Crumbly cheeses often have a bit more tang and sass. And what I mean is, you'll know it when you taste a Goat cheese or Feta cheese, for example. It will have a smoother, but astringent texture.
- Blue cheese is not for everyone but it is for many. The characteristics you want are good marbling of the "blue" throughout the cheese. It will have a strong smell and should be sharp and tangy on your tongue. Varieties such as Roquefort (France), Gorgonzola (Italy), Stilton (England) or Maytag (United States) are generally readily available and are unique enough to stand alone or with other varieties of blues. I like to use a large wedge of blue cheese on my display, and crumble some pieces off of it. You can serve with a small palette cheese knife.