Maybe you’re new to entertaining. Perhaps you’ve been invited to lots of holiday parties. What should you serve or bring? We talked with Joey Wells, specialty coordinator, Whole Foods Market, Florida region, who’s passionate about fine foods and all things cheese:
We’re throwing a party on a budget. What should we look for? Keep it simple. Two or three cheeses and one simple accoutrement is plenty. Know how many people you’re serving, and keep in mind that you will have other food there as well. A delightful cheese board can be a beautiful slice of brie, a cheddar and some gouda. Our Private Label cheeses come from small family farms or co-op dairy farmers. They taste incredible and are a great value. Also, don’t be afraid to ask our cheesemonger for a smaller piece of cheese. Finish off your presentation with your favorite jam or jelly or our Dalmatia Fig Spread.
Our guests are extreme foodies. What new discoveries can we show them? Theme your platter and choose about four cheeses. Your theme can be country of origin, a milk type or combination of milk types. For examples you could use only American artisan cheeses or cheese from France or only goat milk cheeses. Or you could build a cheese course with all four of the major types: cow, goat, sheep and bufala. Be sure to let the cheesemonger know your theme so they can help you make the best selections. You can also add olives, charcuterie, jams, mustards and sauces. Don’t be afraid to take it a step further and roast your olives!
We do this only once a year, so we’re not afraid to spend a few bucks. Go wild and have fun with it! Find a cheese you truly love, and build the entire cheese course around that cheese. Look for more rare cheeses, and certainly add an element from the washed-rinded cheeses. An example may be Langres, a lovely washed rind cheese from France. This cheese has a small divot in the top. Thirty minutes before you serve, place the cheese on the platter and fill the divot with a small amount of your favorite sparking wine. As the cheese gets to room temperature, it will soak up all the lovely flavor notes from the wine.
What about serving cheeses? Start with a beautiful serving platter. You may have something with sentimental value, or you can use a wooden board or large piece of slate to elevate the presentation for your guests. You should try to have a spreader or knife for each cheese. Use the appropriate knife for the style of cheese, such as a brie knife for soft ripened or fresh cheeses. You don’t want your guest to work too hard, so you may want to consider cubing or cutting your cheeses in triangles. Temperature is also important, and cheese is at its best served at room temperature. When it’s cold, the flavors and aromas haven’t opened up. Generally, putting your cheese platter out 30 minutes to an hour before serving is plenty of time for the cheeses to achieve their full aroma, flavor and texture. Remember, cheese should be kept out no longer than three hours, or one hour for fresh cheeses.
Whole Foods Markets has nearly 40 American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professionals in the Florida region as well as cheesemongers who can help you create the ideal cheese platter.