When guests say "cheese, please," don't be limited by the pedestrian Cheddar, Swiss and Monterey Jack. Be adventurous and look to different countries for different tastes. And don't limit your cheese to a plate - grate it, slice it and crumble it.
Consider the bleu cheeses, sharp or piquant, grainy or smooth, lightly veined or deeply etched with tasty blue. Pair them with Port and sherry with ripe pears and other seasonal sturdy fruit.
Danielle Anderson of the Corkscrew in Springfield likes these three varieties:
Roquefort, named for the province in France where the cheese made its bones, is sharp and rich. Serve it crumbled on salads and in dressings for a "wow" accent.
Roaring Forties blue is from Australia. Well-rounded, the cheese is made without a rind and is preserved with wax. It is excellent for use in pastries.
Tipo Cabrales is another blue. From Spain, it is wrapped in sycamore leaves to be aged and is great with fruit, Anderson said.
Try Chaubier (Show-BEE-year). A white semi-soft cheese, it is pasteurized and made of half goat's milk and half cow's milk. It has a well-rounded, slightly nutty taste and texture and slices well. Serve it on a party tray with red wine.
Manchego (Mon-CHAY-go) cheese takes us back to Spain. Aged in caves, it is made of sheep's milk and is a hard grating cheese.
Cheese need not be boring, advised Anderson. Consider Amber Valley Double Gloucester with Stilton.
If a cheese can be pretty, this one is. It is a light yellow cheese with layers of blue cheese. It's called double Gloucester (GLAU-stir) because its made with whole milk. If it were made with skim, it would merely be Gloucester. The cheddar is nutty, the blue is smooth and it's perfect on a party tray with cider, wine or beer, and it's also perfect on a dessert fruit plate.
A softer cheese with a taste similar to Manchego is Petit Basque. Made of 100 percent sheep's milk, it is great with white or red wine on crackers and with vegetables, Anderson said. Developed in 1997, Petit Basque is a relative newcomer to the cheese world.
Chevagne (CHEV-ahn-yah) is a semi-firm goat cheese from Belgium. It has a delicate, subtle flavor. Serve it cubed or sliced. It also melts well and makes a terrific cheeseburger, Anderson said.
Fol Epi is another fun cheese. It has a taste similar to Swiss, although less bitter and comes enrobed in a brown crust made of toasted wheat flour. Another great and different cheeseburger cheese, served in slices it tastes like cheese on a cracker without the cracker. Another cheese with two tastes is Murcia al Vino from Spain. A goat's milk cheese with a mild, sweet taste it is bathed in wine as it cures. Each bite carries a taste of cheese as well as the taste of wine.
*Always serve cheese at room temperature, not cold from the refrigerator. In order to ensure the emergence of its full flavor, always take the cheese out of the refrigerator early enough for it to come to room temperature. Depending on the hardness of the cheese, this could take about an hour in cool weather, or as little as 30 minutes in hot weather. Hard cheeses take longer to come to room temperature than soft ones.
*Leave the cheese wrapped so that the exposed surfaces don't dry out. Just before you're ready to serve the cheese, unwrap it and throw the wrapping away. Never use the same wrapping twice - it won't reseal properly.
*For serving, use individual small cutting boards. Plates are flimsy and tip when used to cut cheese.
*If you don't have small cutting boards or marble slabs, then use a big cutting board and keep the cheeses as far away from each other as possible. It's best to have a separate knife for each cheese.
*Choose three to five cheeses, depending upon the size of your party. Aim for variety, hard and soft, mild and strong, cheeses that appear different on the outside and on the inside, different milk types, blue veins or not. Purchase a total quantity of cheese equal to four to six ounces per person depending upon what else you may be serving with the cheese.
*When you prepare cheese samplers, present different cheese varieties in different shapes. It helps your guests identify the different varieties.
*Keep cheese and everything it touches clean, cold and covered.
*Cheese loses flavor and moisture if exposed to air.
*Store cut cheese in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped, from 34-38 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sources: The Art of Serving Cheese, Cocktail Times, Wisconsin Dairy Council
Story published Friday, November 7, 2008 ( Volume 3, Number 6 )