As we start to entertain indoors due to the cooler weather, and to celebrate National Cheese Month, I wanted to give you some tips on one of my favorite entertaining staples – the cheese tray. To do so, I visited one of my favorite places for cheese, Larry’s Market. Larry’s Market is in Brown Deer and well worth the trip when you are planning a dinner function. In addition to cheeses, they have a great selection of wines, desserts, and unique condiments and sauces that will make for a restaurant-quality dinner at home.
But for now – the cheese!
On this last trip, Patty Peterson was kind enough to walk me through the basics of creating a cheese platter, and reinforced what I already love about this art: there is no one perfect cheese tray. Just like preparing for a wine tasting, you can pick whatever cheeses strike your fancy. Try all goat’s milk, all soft cheeses, all French cheeses, etc. You want a good mix and should always have at least one familiar cheese, but otherwise, there are no rules.
Seeing how much I love my home state, I decided to narrow my search to Wisconsin cheeses. In the end, I took home four beautiful cheeses:
- Dunbarton Bleu from Roelli Cheese Haus in Shullsburg, WI
- Marieke Golden Gouda from Thorp, WI
- Delice Triple Creme from France*
- Martone Cow-Goat Blend from LaClare Farms in Chilton, WI
*I know, I know… I did bring home one French cheese. I tried some similar cheeses from Wisconsin, but this variety won my heart, hands down. Patty did tell me to be on the lookout for Rush Creek Reserve in the next month or so. She says this soft cheese is comparable to it’s French counterparts.
I think going to a specialty shop when picking out cheeses is really important. To create the perfect cheese tray for you and your guests, you need to speak with an expert and try samples before purchasing. Patty and her colleagues are always more than accommodating when I come in. This time she taught me all about bindings. Did you know that Gouda is typically bound in wax, whereas the Martone cheese is actually covered in ash? These bindings allow for different aging times and add flavor of the cheese.
When it was time for the party, I served the cheeses with pear, honey and ginger jam from Quince & Apple, almonds, crackers, and apple slices. Patty suggested grapes or strawberries on the side, but again stressed it’s all about the season and what pairs well in your own mind. It is the season for apples, and I’m so glad we tried it. A slice of apple with the Marieke Gouda was perfect!
In short, the world is yours when it comes to preparing a cheese tray. Just keep these basics in mind:
- For a dinner party of six to eight people, it would be best to have three or four cheeses. No matter how many guests, never serve more than five cheeses or it will be overwhelming for the palate.
- Purchase one to two ounces of cheese per person for an appetizer or one to one and a half ounces per person for a cheese course during a meal.
- Take the hard cheeses out of the fridge two hours before serving. Soft and semi-soft cheeses should come out 45 minutes before serving. Most cheeses taste better close to room temperature.
I’d love to hear what your favorite pairings are and how you arrange your cheese tray. We are always looking for new and unique ways to serve our customers. If you have a unique pairing that’s always a hit, I’d love to feature it in an upcoming menu. Let me know!
And if you don’t feel like doing the homework yourself or have a large group to feed, don’t forget – I cater cheese and sausage trays, too.