ORANGE COUNTY, Ca, November 8, 2012 — The pleasure of good cheese served at room temperature is the stuff of culinary dreams. Before dinner, after dinner, any time really, thoughtfully selected cheeses accompanied by nuts, fruit, and crusty bread make for a satisfying supplement to a meal or a satisfying snack.
Add the just-right wine, or beer, and memories are made.
Correct temperature, varying types and complementary sides create cheese plates to tempt and gratify guests looking for either a savory closing to their meal, or a palate-stimulating start. Engage your guests by mixing some unexpected selections with familiar favorites.
Consider Blue Shropshire and Sauternes, a cheese/wine pairing suggested by ChrisAnn Richards, cheese monger and partner at the Wine Lab in Newport Beach and at The Camp in Costa Mesa. “Blue Shropshire is a cheddar cheese from England with a blue vein, and Sauternes is a sweet, white dessert wine from France. The creamy, salty, bold flavors of Blue Shropshire and the sweet, fruity acidity of the Sauternes are a balancing act made in heaven.”
Francoise Koster, owner of La Poubelle in Los Angeles, loves goat brie with a glass of champagne. The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel Executive Chef Andres Jimenez favors French cheeses like Rebruchon (soft-centered, nutty cow), from the Alps, and Comté (semi-hard cow), from the Franche-Comté region.
Good cheese, often labeled artisanal, costs more than grocery store cheddar or jack. Better, fresher ingredients from animals raised responsibly are hand-crafted in small amounts with fewer additives. “Cheeses aged for long periods tend to be more expensive, as cheese that’s aging is ‘frozen’ money. Big investment usually gives a great return in flavor,” Chef Jimenez explains.
Serving these exceptional cheeses can be done in many ways but variety of texture, flavor, and type—cow, sheep or goat—is desirable. Soft, aged, firm, and blue with accompaniments to provide taste contrast and balance is a good way to go according to Koster. She serves chutneys, jellies, mustards, honey, nuts (candied and salted), olives, pickles, dried fruit, cured meats, grapes, fresh figs, pears, or crudites with her cheese.
At the Wine Lab, cheese plates come in groups of three varieties with fig and olive spread, nuts, and dried cranberries. It’s also accompanied by freshly-baked bread, goat butter, and rock salt. The goat butter is a revelation; tangy, creamy and just salty enough. Richards sells the organic Meyenburg goat butter from Central California along with other condiments customers taste on the platter.
Caramelized figs and dry grapes on the vine are options Jimenez offers at enoSteak at The Ritz-Carlton. He insists that the right temperature is an essential part of serving cheese. “Cheese needs time to develop flavor, and is best when it’s not coming straight from the refrigerator.” He recommends an hour to an hour and a half out of the refrigerator.
Richards at the Wine Lab has a more nuanced approach to temperature affording room for personal preference:
“Some cheddars and Manchegos start to get an oily sheen and change texture as they sit out. Brie, on the other hand, can be a little rubbery when pulled directly from the fridge and may benefit from warming up a bit. Most cheese will develop stronger flavors as they come to room temperature, but that is not always welcome.”
For starter courses before dinner Koster chooses, “Lighter cheeses, such as a soft goat, and crudite for this course, paired with champagne or aperitifs.” For after dinner, she likes a creamy camembert, Roquefort, and fresh fruit. She also suggests dark chocolate-covered espresso beans.
“I like a strong finish, so blue and sharp cheeses, especially served with a few field greens,” comments Jimenez about after dinner cheese. Mache with a light sherry vinaigrette is his favorite.
“Triple creams and blues are amazing after dinner,” echoes Lisa Lisa Albanese from Venissimo, a cheese shop in Long Beach. She likes to serve fresh fruit, chocolate, honey, and jam with her cheese.
“A lot of people may say wine goes the best with cheese or prosciutto, but I think beer, with its many styles, is the best to drink with cheese,” says Bryan Liem, kitchen coordinator at The Bruery in Placentia. He’s not alone.
TAPS Fish House & Brewery Founder-Proprietor Joe Manzella has Fiscalini cheddar and Spanish tetilla on the plate at his Brea restaurant. “The Fiscalini cheddar is a beautiful, sharp white cheddar from Modesto, California. The tetilla is a very popular, soft white cheese that is a nice, mild complement to the other offerings.”
The Wine Lab has six beers on tap from local, artisan brewers plus four in bottles. Richards asserts that pairing beer and cheese is just like pairing wine and cheese. “Taste the beer, taste the cheese…over and over until you find one that pulls out the expression of the beer. For example; Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale (Calif) paired with Mimolette from France. The mellow nutty flavor just pairs perfectly.”
Keep in mind, “Cheese is a living, breathing thing, therefore sealing it tightly in plastic will suffocate it. Not to mention, give it an essence of plastic flavor. Unfortunately, most health codes demand it be packaged this way in stores.”
Richards tells customers to wrap cheese in wax or parchment paper, then loosely cover with plastic so it can get some air.
“Better yet, if you plan to eat the cheese within a day or two, keep it in a container in a cool part of your kitchen or under a glass dome on your counter.”
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