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The Cheese Insider

Serving a cheese course does not need to be elaborate to be inviting. A single carefully chosen cheese in perfect condition is more alluring than a tray loaded with uninspired selections.

A simple, fresh wedge of Dante, a Manchego-style sheep’s milk cheese from the Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative, served with green olives, makes an eye-catching cheese course before dinner. At the end of a meal, a slice of Buttermilk Blue, a raw-milk blue cheese from Emmi Roth in Monroe, garnished with honey and toasted nuts can make a great dessert.

For most occasions, three cheeses make an ample and generous cheese course for a dinner party. It can be very awkward and slow at a seated dinner party to pass a board with many more selections than that.

If you are serving buffet style, or it is served in a stand-up environment where the cheese is not passed, you can fill it with as many cheeses as you choose. I always caution our customers to not try and serve too many cheeses at one time because it is too much for most people’s palates to handle more than four cheeses.

If you are serving more than one cheese, plan your cheese so that you can have a complementary assortment.

One approach is to serve cheeses that offer diversity: fresh cheeses and aged ones; mild cheeses and strong ones; a mix of cow’s, sheep’s, and goat’s milk cheeses; or a variety of styles, such as a bloomy rind, a washed rind, a blue and a cheddar. Also a diversity of shape and color: a tray with a round, a wedge and a pyramid is more inviting than a tray with all wedges.

Diversity ensures there is something for everyone and a variety of taste experiences on the tray. We tell our customers that having different styles, textures and colors is what creates a really good cheese plate. We often help customers select a cheese tray offering what suits them and the guests who will be enjoying it.

If the cheese course is part of a multicourse meal, plan on about two ounces of cheese per person. However, you may want to purchase more to have a bountiful-looking tray. Purchase enough so that each cheese has some stature.

Anyone who has travelled in Europe, especially in France, knows that many times the cheese course is served at the end of the meal, and may be accompanied by a salad.

Americans usually serve the cheese course before a meal with wine, beer or cocktails. If you do serve cheese before the meal, it is wise to stay away from rich and creamy cheeses. These types of cheese can dull the appetite and are more appropriate for dessert. Dryer cheeses, like some of the fantastic cheddars made in Wisconsin, Blue Mont Dairy’s Bandaged Cheddar or Widmer’s six-year Cheddar, are always good choices to add to a pre-meal cheese tray. Roelli Cheese Haus makes two very good cheddars for a cheese course ¬– Dunbarton Blue and the bright orange beauty Red Rock are sure winners for having on a cheese tray.

What to serve with the cheese tray? I always suggest a loaf of plain French-type bread, or a simple plain cracker. You can add nuts, crisp fruit and even fresh grapes. Dried fruit such as Door County cherries can also be great with the right cheese tray.

Our cheesemongers are always good people to ask when planning a cheese tray. They know all the cheeses we sell and can help guide you in your selections. The cheeses that are currently produced by the growing list of artisan cheesemakers in Wisconsin make it easy to serve some fantastic cheeses, while keeping it local

Source: Cheese & Wine by Janet Fletcher, 2006