Wine and cheese—a marriage made in heaven. I can vouchsafe for it. Over the Holidays I made a simple cheese platter that my guests loved. It made for a great center piece at the bar and elicited much lively discussion. Here is how I made it and selected the accompanying wine and beer. Try it yourself. Enjoy.
Over the Christmas and New Year Holidays one often has visiting friends and family. Food and drink are an essential part of the festivities along with the Christmas tree, gifts, dinner table conversation and arguments. We too had guests this year and while my wife took care of the food, entertainment and the bar was my responsibility.
I love tending the bar. We have one in our basement which I had carefully designed and stocked to my liking. It is a place where conversation flows and gives me an opportunity to individually attend to my guests. During our stay in France we had developed a fondness for cheese. What could be a better accompaniment to wine and beer? In this post I describe the cheese board I put together over Christmas 2021.
A good cheese board and knife are essential for a good display. Often they have a marble surface for the cheese. It is visually appealing and easy to clean. I usually have more than one cheese knife, one for each cheese. The grooves in the board are handy holders for crackers, nuts and fruit.
The first cheese (the one on top in the picture) was a cheddar with truffles, always a favorite of mine. Nothing can beat the earthy flavor of black truffles. The second was an English Cotswold; a creamy Double Gloucester with onion and chives. This turned out to be especially popular. The third was a Sage Derby. This was a British Derby with sage that gives it a lovely green reticulation and a subtle flavor of the herb. I have not seen it much in vogue in the US, so I was curious to see how people liked it. The three slabs filled up the cheese section of the board. Three to four cheeses are optimal. It gives enough variety without overwhelming the palate and does not fill up the guests too much before dinner. A soft cheese like Brie or a blue cheese, (Stilton is my favorite) would go well as the fourth, if needed.
I then laid out a line of plain crackers and toasted bread squares. It is important that these be as innocuous tasting as possible. The purpose of crackers is to hold the cheese, not to add or distract from the taste. I avoid flavored crackers.
I arranged dates, cranberries and a bunch of sweet grapes on the tray and some salted cashews in a bowl. A little pot of honey or jam is a good adjunct but I have found that the viscous honey is messy. It drips all over the place. Instead, I used small pieces of peanut brittle. Its sweetness was an excellent substitute for honey and the hard nut a nice counterpoint to the softness of the cheese. The nuts and dried fruit effectively rinses the palate between savoring the different cheeses so the flavors and tastes do not blend into each other. Finally, I put some blue cheese stuffed olives in a bowl, a perennial favorite for martini drinkers. Now I had a cheese board to my liking with different colors, tastes, flavors and textures. I also liked the way it looked.
Now it was time to get the drinks. I had chosen three seasonal beers for the occasion. A Shiner Holiday Cheer from Spoetzl Brewery, Texas, brewed with peaches and pecans, light and fruity, a welcome departure from the heavy, dark seasonal beers. Next a more traditional Christmas Scotch Ale from Bell’s Brewery, Michigan. This turned out to be very popular; rich, warm and a touch malty. And finally, the pièce de résistance, a Mad Elf Grand Cru from Troegs, Hershey, Pennsylvania (I had to have one from my state). This was brewed with tart Balaton cherries, spices and honey, the sweetness of the honey balancing the tartness to perfection. It was an excellent holiday ale with a rich burgundy color and led to many spirited (pun intended) discussions at the bar. Mad Elf must have been greatly in demand. I just managed to pick up the last pack in the store. It also had an 11% alcohol content. Fortunately, none of my guests had to drive that night.
Wine and cheese — what a well matched couple! I was always partial to Trimbach Pinot Noir from Ribeauvillé, a town in Alsace, not far from Strasbourg where we had lived for a few years and had had our first introduction to French wine and cheese. I found one at a local store. The second wine was a Sauvignon Blanc from Kim Crawford, a well know white from New Zealand that also paired well with the roast chicken we had for dinner.
Preparations completed, I dressed up for the occasion and headed for the bar where I set out the shakers, cocktail glasses, tumblers and the many accoutrements of the bar tender. The guests followed and we had a great time. The cheese platter was my center piece. It received a lot of compliments as well as the drink selection. We ate, drank and celebrated. After all, t’was the Holiday Season. This is what the season is for, reconnecting with our family, friends. And relaxing and having a good time. We did just that.
Try the cheese platter. It is easy. I think you will like it. Let me know.