There’s nothing like a little stinky cheese to bring a group together. It’s conversational, interactive, interesting, and best, tasty as all get out. Before you pull out the mozzarella and crackers, here are a few tips for the introductory cheese monger.
For starters, you’ll need to know that there are six different kinds of cheeses–and the savvy cheese party host should aim to have one of each in his/her spread. They include:
- Fresh: These rind-less cheeses should be enjoyed quickly. Examples include Ricotta, Burrata, and of course, Mozzarella.
- Bloomy: These are the cheeses that form a light white mold over a rind or skin. Examples include Brie, Triple Créme and Camembert.
- Washed Rind: Say hello to the stinkiest of the stinky cheeses. After developing a rind, these are usually washed in salt water or wine. Examples include Munster, Taleggio and Harvest Moon.
- Semi-Firm: These cheeses develop a healthy rind because they’re given a lot of time to mature. They sometimes have a wax coating. Examples include St. Nectaire, Pyrenees Brebis, Asiago and Ementhaler.
- Hard: These cheeses age even longer which gives them a sharpness and a crumblier texture. Examples include Parmigiano Reggiano, Grafton Cheddar and Goudas.
- Blue: This is a category unrelated to all the others. They age for about a month, and are then “needled,” which allows air inside so mold will form in the cheese’s interior. This gives Blue cheeses a punchy quality. Examples include Point Reyes Original Blue, Roquefort and Gorgonzola.
You’ll need about an ounce of cheese per guest, and we recommend using dessert plates so the unattentive cheese lover isn’t encouraged to take more than his fair share. Pull the cheeses out of the fridge about an hour before serving, and allow them to sit in their wrapping until just prior to show time.
Display your cheeses on a wooden cutting board or similar, and arrange them in a row or circle from lightest to darkest (white, yellow, orange), with the blue cheese at an end. Provide a separate knife for each cheese, and cut a “display” wedge that sets an example for the other soon-to-be cheese eaters.
Thinly slice a couple of baguettes to enjoy the cheeses with (these are a good match for almost any kind). Other nice complements include almonds, dried apricots, Craisins and naturally, red grapes. These can be arranged together on a platter or placed in separate bowls, rammekins or baskets.
For an extra bit of flair and educational value, label the cheeses with their name and type on a business-card-sized piece of paper (or smaller), and attach with a toothpick.
Sipping choices include Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Martinelli’s Apple Cider or Aerial’s non-alcoholic Zinfandel (available at Emigration Market, 1706 E. 1300 South).
If you’re looking for a cute and affordable invitation, try this option from Real Simple, best printed on deep yellow or soft orange paper and marked up at random with a hole punch.
And, to appear extra in-the-know, here are some words frequently used to behold the power of cheese (flash-card ready):
Texture: melting, sturdy, sandy, piquescent, striates, delicate, fudgy, luscious, ripe, mouthfilling, velvety, pillowy.
Flavors: grassy, tangy, lingering, fruity, nutty, buttery, mean, sweet, barnyardy, dominant, caramelly, gamey.
Great free cheese resources on the Web include Artisan Cheese and Murray’s Cheese. Local stores with great cheese selections include Caputo’s Market, Granato’s, Wild Oats and the “gourmet” deli section at your local grocer.