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Big Cheese

Holiday party season is officially on its way, and we can’t wait to get cooking, plating, and sharing (and did we mention sampling?). One of our favorite ways to kick off a holiday celebration is with a cheese platter filled with selections guests are . . . let’s say unlikely to find on the office-party deli platter or at their local market. We checked in with our fromage frère Matt Rubiner, owner of the wickedly fabulous Rubiner’s Cheesemongers and Grocers in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, for this tutorial on setting up the perfect holiday cheese-tasting plate.

  • During colder months—and hearty-eating holidays—robust cheeses like cheddar, Stilton, and Swiss are a tasting platter’s best friend.
  • Pick cheeses in peak condition, with contrasting appearances, textures, and flavors that still play nice-nice on the plate. Don’t force a theme—say, French Cheeses, Super-Awesome Cheeses, or Things You Can Grate—unless it complements the rest of your meal.
  • Select a minimum of three and a maximum of five cheeses, to avoid crowding the cutting areas. Aim for 2 ounces total per person.
  • Include soft, semisoft, semihard, and hard cheeses on your platter, and try to represent each of the three major categories: cow’s, goat’s, and sheep’s milk.
  • Cheeses develop their fullest flavor at room temperature, so take yours out of the fridge 30 to 60 minutes before serving. But keep them wrapped until ready to serve, to avoid hardening or discoloration of the edges.
  • For serving, think rustic tableware like slabs of scrap marble or stone, or wooden cutting boards. We’re loving this simple, streamlined wood platter. (You know you want it. Get it here for a limited time!) Arrange several platters around the room for larger parties, instead of trying to squeeze everything into one area.
  • Arrange the cheeses on the platter from mild and least aromatic to strong and knock-your-jingle-bell-socks-off pungent.
  • When cutting, retain the original shape of the cheese—so don’t massacre that wheel of Pecorino into cubes or force the Brie into submissive rectangles. Cut several wedges to start, and then let guests make their own servings. Be sure to offer a different knife for each cheese.
  • Serve with unflavored crackers and bread, to allow full appreciation of the cheese.
  • Vary the accompaniments. Go for unsalted nuts like hazelnuts, pecans, or almonds, and roast them yourself if possible. Dried fruits like apricot, figs, Angelino plums, and blackcurrants have greater intensity and acidity that’s ideal for pairing with cheese, and are less messy than fresh (though fresh apple and pair slices are a classic choice, too). Preserves, chutneys, and compotes are delicious with most cheeses—switch it up with red pepper jelly, berry or tropical chutneys, or membrillo, a lightly sweet Spanish quince paste.

 

What We Picked:

  1. Reisling x Sylvaner—a mild, soft-ripened, wine-soaked cow’s milk cheese made in western Switzerland
  2. Abbaye De Tamié—a flavorful, soft cow’s milk cheese made by the monks of Tamié Abbey in the French Alps
  3. Bonnieview Farm Coomersdale—a Vermont-made semihard in the style of a young Pecorino
  4. Mrs. Appleby’s Cheshire—an authentic farmhouse Cheshire made from cow’s milk and dyed with annatto seed, from Shropshire, England
  5. Queso Cabrales—an artisanal and very piquant blue cheese aged in the caves near the Cantabrian Sea in Asturias, Spain

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