Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cheesy Fun

So here's a fun Thanksgiving Day idea: have a cheese tasting! I know I'm gunna. It makes for a fun and interesting appetizer course... not to mention oh-so-freaking tasty.

Here's the deal: I recently got a gift membership to an artisan cheese of the month club. Imagine: four different artisan cheeses from all over the world delivered right to your door once a month, complete with fromager tasting notes. It's heaven I tell ya. Along with the cheese itself, the shipments come with a guide for how to conduct a cheese tasting based on a "cheese clock" where the mildest of cheeses is placed on a platter at 6:00, and the selection gets subsequently more bold as you move clockwise. Also included are beverage pairing recommendations, which are pretty much as you would suspect: white wines, champagnes and lighter style beers with the mild cheeses; bold red wines, dessert wines or dark beers as you move to the stronger cheeses.

At a recent dinner party with friends, I gave it a whirl. I loaded up a cheese clock with my monthly club cheeses, as well as a selection I had picked up at the Winters Cheese Company (you did read my love letter to Winters, right?). In all, eight different cheeses, each with its own very distinct flavor profile. No two were similar in the least, and it made for some great tasty nibbles and some lively comparison notes. We did the whole shebang - beverage pairings and all. Here's what was on our cheese clock that night:
  • Laurier (goat's milk; Vermont): "Adorned with hand-selected bay leaves that give it a gentle bit of spiciness. The cheese's white bloomy rind protects the protects the rind protects the cheese while creating wonderful layers of flavor and texture."
  • Camembert (sheep and cow's milk; Hudson Valley, New York): "Meltingly smooth and buttery with the texture of a triple-creme."
  • Caerphilly (cow's milk; Winters, California): "A light-coloured (almost white), crumbly cheese with a pleasant sour tang."
  • Garlic and Chive Cheddar (cow's milk; Winters, California): "Chive gives a slight onion flavor with just enough garlic to compliment it. This cheese is reminiscent of a traditional English Cotswald."
  • Sage Cheddar (cow's milk; Winters, California): "Sage adds a fragrant herbal aroma and a slightly sweet taste to the Cheddar flavors."
  • Smoked Cheddar (cow's milk; Winters, California): "Hickory wood chips give the traditional Cheddar a sweet and delicate smokey flavor and aroma."
  • Appenzeller (cow's milk; Switzerland): "This cheese receives its unique flavors from the herbs, liquors and wines that comprise the solution in which the wheels are bathed. It has an herbaceous, nutty flavor and a smooth milky finish."
  • Stilton (cow's milk; Great Britain): "Rich, creamy and characterized by its typical blue veining with rich complex flavors and a piquant finish."
We tasted the cheeses with a variety of crackers, as well as with apples and pears, and paired the cheeses with the appropriate wines. I, of course, loved every cheese. I honestly didn't have a favorite. The rest of the tasters were divided: two people picked the Stilton as their favorite, while two others picked the Sage Cheddar. Everyone - hands-down - enjoyed the Laurier.

At any rate, it was a fun casual activity to pass the time before dinner as we chatted and sipped our various wines. It's a great cocktail party activity because it's interactive, and certainly (if you build your clock right), there will be something for everyone.

At any rate, if you'd like to get a really good overview of how to create a cheese clock and pair your cheeses with the appropriate beverages, check out

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