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The Art of the Cheese Platter

It’s that time of year again! Everybody is gearing up for the holidays; and along with that come the holiday parties. “What should I bring? What should I serve?” Well, cooking can be a great deal of fun, particularly when you have a thousand other things to do—but a cheese platter is an absolute, or virtually absolute, no-brainer. With very little effort you can wow your friends or guests, and rest comfortably in the knowledge that they will henceforth think of you as an experienced gourmand and culinary aesthete. “But I know nothing about cheese!” No fear! We are here to offer you some wonderful suggestions for your next trip to the cheese case.

Where to begin?
Hunt through your cupboards and find an appropriate plate, platter or board that will complement the treasures presented—a decorated holiday serving platter, one with sleighs or autumnal leaves or turkeys showing off their full feathery regalia; or even a simple wooden cutting board; these will do nicely. Once this is done, the rest is child’s play.

The cheese case
Now, stop by the Co-op and rush over to the cheese case. The key theme to remember is VARIETY. Give the lucky folks partaking of your party offering something to get excited about. There are several strategies to follow: vary the styles of cheese proffered; vary the colors presented; very the types of ruminant, be it cow, goat or sheep; vary the types of flavored cheeses; or, and this is the best of all options, a delightful combination of all the above.

Classic styles of cheese
There are several classic styles of cheese, and as often as not, their descriptions will bleed into one another a bit. There are semi-softs, soft-ripeneds, semi-hards, hards, blues, flavored cheeses, and fresh cheeses—and there are hybrids of these. To simplify matters a bit, think about flavors and textures. Choose about five or six different cheeses, and make sure they each have a distinct voice on your platter.

Import platter
Here are a few examples of what you might choose: Let’s say you want to do a nice luxurious import platter. Start with a nice chunk of Beemster Aged Gouda, a very firm textured cheese, wonderfully nutty with a nice sharpness and a hint of caramel; next, a big piece of Delice de Bourgogne, an exquisitely buttery-rich soft-ripened cheese, with just an achingly delicate hint of truffle flavor; then perhaps some Italian Gorgonzola, rich and creamy, with a bright piquant zip to its bite; next, a bit of Ossau-Iraty, a wonderful sheep milk cheese from the Basque region of France with a smooth texture and full flavor; then throw in some cave-aged Gruyere from Switzerland, a classic firm-textured cheese with a bouquet of alpine grasses and flowers in every bite; and just for fun, a little bit of Spanish Drunken Goat, a smooth, light flavored goat cheese dipped in port wine that gives the flavor a unique zing. Wow! Your friends will be dazzled.

Local cheese platter
How about a nice platter of local cheese specialties, that will not only delight everyone who tastes it, but will also support our amazing local cheese artisans and dairy farmers? First, a lovely bit of Pleasant Ridge Reserve with its incredible nuttiness and depth of character; next, perhaps a nice chunk of Hook’s Blue Paradise or Hidden Springs Bohemian Blue, both stellar examples of local blue cheese, rich and nuanced in flavor; then a big piece of Capri Greek feta, with its delicious tangy robustness; after that some of Crave Brothers Les Freres, a great local washed-rind in the style of European Trappist cheeses, fruity, creamy and delicate; then Widmer’s Six-Year Cheddar or Bleu Mont Bandage-Wrapped Cheddar, both carefully aged for a truly bracing and outstandingly full bite; perhaps some of the Otter Creek Pesto Cheddar, full of bright basil flavor; then a Carr Valley Marisa, a terrific local sheep milk cheese with a lovely creaminess and vibrant bite.

These are just a few of our favorites. There are so very many more to select from. Follow your taste buds; use your creativity; ask for help from one of our capable cheese staff; but always remember the key to a successful cheese platter is one word: VARIETY. Flavors, textures, colors; variety will turn a simple platter into a thing of beauty and a joy to be savored long after the party is over.

Finishing touches
Don’t forget that after you’ve selected your cheese treasures, you can always add a little something to make a work of art into a masterpiece!

Classic accompaniments to add to a cheese platter should never be forgotten. Our Produce department has lovely seasonal tart, crisp apples as well as lusciously complex flavored pears. Try adding little pyramids of fresh cranberries or blueberries; maybe a cascade of blushing grapes. We carry many wonderful dried fruits and nuts; a few intensely flavored figs or dates, and some nicely toasted almonds will spruce up even the quietest of cheese platters. Our deli’s olive bar is full of unctuous, mouth-watering delights to select from and add to your creation. And what about crackers from Potter’s Crackers? Or a nice crusty baguette from Madison Sourdough or LaBrea? You can even add little pots of jam, or chutney, or a nice, sharp mustard on the side. The possibilities are endless! And we are here to make your creative aspirations come to fruition. If you need help finding any of these products, or perhaps a bit of advice, just ask our capable staff.

The next time a holiday party comes around you’ll be ready to knock all your friends out with your sophistication and artistry! And a tiny little bit of help from the Co-op!

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