Yes, "certified cheese professional" is a thing.
If you’re hosting any get-together between now and 2019, you probably have a to-do list, and that to-do list is probably long: Plan the menu. Grocery shop. Make the latkes. Bake the chocolate cake. Find those cloth napkins in the attic. Ooh, and the tablecloth too. Buy holiday gifts. Buy flowers. Buy candles. Tell someone to clean his room...
What’s one reliable thing to take off your plate? A cheese plate. This we-have-it-at-every-event appetizer is a Food52 favorite because it basically makes itself. Oh, and everyone loves cheese. That helps.
So the cheese plate idea is a definite no-brainer, but what about the actual cheeses? Which ones do you get? Does the type of milk matter? What about firmness? And how many? And what do I serve with them? All of this can be intimidating if you’re more familiar with eating cheese than studying it (read: almost all of us).
Which is why on this week’s Dear Test Kitchen—our Hotline-inspired video series—Food52’s test kitchen director Josh Cohen called in an extra-special guest: his wife, Elena Santogade, who also happens to be a certified cheese expert. (Lucky us! Lucky him!)
Elena answered all our questions and then some—and I am now ready to build the best cheese board of my life (yep, my life!) this holiday season. Just follow her pro tips and you will be, too.
You don’t need to buy 84 cheeses to impress your guests. Just diversify each type so every person can find one (or more!) they love. Elena’s picks:
Maybe you’re thinking, But I don’t like goat cheese! Or, I hate blue cheese! That’s cool. Just swap out Cheese #1 for a creamy, also-soft Brie. And drop Cheese #4 altogether. So long as you avoid repetition, you’re golden.
“Think about accompaniments as little bites that people can enjoy between tasting the cheeses.” In other words: palate cleansers. Maybe it’s something sweet after eating a salty, funky cheese. Or, texturally, a crunchy nibble after eating a buttery, creamy cheese. Here’s Elena’s lineup:
Another plus of these: They’re pretty. Cheese’s color scheme can be pretty monotonous. Bonus ingredients are an opportunity for a pop of orange or red. Of course, they’re also an opportunity to have fun. Cashews can be substituted with any other nut, even a roasted mix. Dried apricots could be replaced with prunes, figs, or mango. Instead of tomato relish, try any other preserves—from pepper jelly to apple butter. You get the idea.
What’s the wrong time? A few minutes before your guests come over. As Elena puts it, “The cheese needs to relax.” In other words: come to room temperature, so all its flavors come through. Exactly how long the cheese needs to sit out will depend on how chilly or warm the room is. Figure at least 30 minutes.
Well, don’t let them cut all the cheese themselves. Elena recommends pre-cutting at least half the cheese, so guests have an example of how each one should be sliced. This way, you avoid a certain someone who scoops out all the creamy center of the Brie and leaves a sad shell behind.
What are your go-to picks and tricks for a cheese plate? Tell us in the comments!
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