Cheese is often on the table at holiday parties and dinners.
And there are things to bear in mind to assure your guests will love the cheese you put out.
Chef Terrance Brennan is the owner of two restaurants in New York City, Picholine and Artisinal, and he runs the Artisinal Premium Cheese Center.
On The Early Show Monday, Brennan laid out everything you need to know about assembling a cheese platter -- how many items to serve, which varieties, what to serve with them, and more.
So -- what should you buy?
There are the three basic rules to keep in mind. By following them, you'll present an attractive cheese plate that's interesting both visually and on your palate. Plus, following these rules enables you to buy what's available at your store; no need to feel pressured to find particular cheeses:
It's amazing that you can get thousands of different types of cheese from just three types of milk, Brennan points out. Almost everyone has probably had a goat cheese salad or sandwich at some point, and knows that the texture and flavor are quite different from cheddar cheese, for instance. Cheddar is a cow's milk cheese; cow cheeses have the greatest variation of flavor profiles. There may be more sheep's milk cheese out there than you realize; these cheeses typically come from mountainous regions, where cows are more difficult to raise. There are many traditional sheep milk cheeses from Spain and Portugal. Manchego is one that many people have heard of.
If you're serving the cheese at a cocktail party or as hors d'oeuvres, buy about 5 ounces of cheese per person. You can serve the cheese on anything you like -- a beautiful platter, rustic wood board, slate or marble - just make sure the surface is large enough to fit the cheeses comfortably, with enough space between them so your guests can cut them easily. Brennan suggests arranging the cheeses from mildest to strongest. While you can't control how your guests consume the cheese, cheese fans in the group will appreciate this presentation, which enables them to enjoy the milder cheeses before diving in to the ones with strong, overwhelming flavors.
Did you know that cheeses, like vegetables, have seasons? Stilton cheese is considered a traditional holiday cheese because it's at its tastiest right now. It's made from cow's milk that's obtained in the late summer or early fall. That provides the richest possible flavor. The British traditionally have a wheel of Stilton sitting out; they douse the cheese in port and allow the alcohol to soak into it. It's often served with walnut bread or crackers.
That brought Brennan to his final point: What do you serve with your cheese platter at a party?
Although Brennan himself loves to eat cheese on its own, he recognizes that others enjoy condiments with their cheese. Many people serve fresh fruit, such as grapes, alongside their cheese, which is fine, but Brennan urges you to look beyond that pairing. Nuts, dried fig cake and chutney are other accompaniments that are easy to find and will add a new depth of flavor to your cheese plate. Fresh figs and medjool dates are simple additions that complement all cheese types.
He also suggests serving two different types of wine with cheese, such as a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris, and a medium-bodied Cabernet or Pinot Noir.