To simplify your holiday entertaining this season, serve cheese as your signature dish at parties and potlucks. Isabel Maples from the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association shares a few ideas.
Festive Cheddar Tree
Makes 1 cheese tree – 40 servings
– 5 (8-ounce) packages of Cabot Cheddar, assorted flavors
– Fresh thyme sprigs
– Grape or cherry tomatoes and/or olives
– 1 mushroom
– Cut cheese into 1-inch cubes
– On large platter or cutting board, arrange cubes in rows to form tree shape, using a different cheese flavor or color for each row. Separate flavors with thyme sprigs and rows of tomatoes or olives.
– For star on top, peel skin from mushroom; press star pattern into mushroom with point of knife.
Makes 10 servings
Serving a sampling of cheeses is sure to please your guests, as people can compare and contrast flavors or just pick what they like. A cheese board is a step above the 'cheese and crackers' mentality but can be practically as easy to prepare with this step-by-step guide.
1. Serve 3 to 5 cheeses. That offers variety without being overwhelming.
2. Vary the cheeses, either by appearance (light to dark), texture (soft to hard) or flavor (mild to bold). Relax; you can hardly go wrong with whatever you select.
3. Using a colorful serving platter, cutting board, or marble slab can offer visual contrast and make your cheese selection look more inviting.
– Pick one cheese from 3-5 of the following categories:
- 3 ounces fresh (not aged) cheeses: fresh mozzarella, Queso, Quark, feta
- 3 ounces semi-soft cheeses: brick, Muenster, Teleme, colby, edam, Fontina
- 3 ounces soft ripened (bloomy rind) cheeses: Brie, Camembert, Talbot Reserve
- 3 ounces washed rind cheeses: Red Hawk, Pleasant Ridge Reserve
- 3 ounces semi hard cheese: Cheddar, gruyere, Swiss, Asiago, Gouda
- 3 ounces blue cheese: blue, Gorgonzola
- 3 ounces hard cheese: Vella Dry Jack, Parmesan, Romano, San Joaquin Gold
Offer one or more other foods for guests to enjoy with the cheese:
- Seasonal fruit: berries, cherries, figs, apples, pears, melon, grapes
- Preserved fruit: dried cranberries, orange marmalade, dried cherries, chutney
- Bread: thinly sliced: crusty baguette, dense dark bread, raisin walnut bread
- Nuts: one or more types of nuts, plain or flavored like the almonds below
Cheese Course Almonds
– 1 teaspoon curry powder
– 1 teaspoon sugar
– 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
– 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
– 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
– 1 tablespoon butter
– 2 cups blanched whole almonds
– 2 teaspoons fresh orange juice
– 1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
Directions for nuts
– Combine curry, sugar, garlic powder, ground ginger and ground red pepper in a bowl.
– Heat butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add almonds and stir, coating with butter. Sauté 4 to 5 minutes, until fragrant.
– Add spice mixture and stir. Cook until spices are fragrant and nuts are golden brown, about 4 minutes.
– Add orange juice and cook until almonds are dry, about 3 minutes.
– Toss with salt and spread on a lined baking sheet to cool completely.
Directions for cheese board
– Arrange cheeses on one or more platters, leaving enough room around each one to cut. (Consider a separate dish for strongly flavored cheeses, like washed rind or blue cheeses.)
– Arrange Cheese Course Almonds, fresh fruit, preserved fruit and bread on the same or separate platter.
– Cover platter loosely and refrigerate until ready to serve.
– Thirty minutes to 1 hour before serving, remove cheese platter(s) from refrigerator to bring them to room temperature.
– Serve each cheese with its own knife to avoid mixing flavors.
Savory Italian Cheese Ball
Makes 25-30 servings
– 3/4 cup pine nuts
– 8 ounces (2 cups) shredded Asiago cheese
– 2 ounces (1/2 cup) shredded Fontina cheese
– 1 tablespoon shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
– 4 ounces cream cheese, cut in chunks and at room temperature
– 2 tablespoons prepared, refrigerated basil pesto
– 2 tablespoons half-and-half, if needed
– 1/4 cup marinated, sun-dried tomatoes, diced and dried well
– Fresh basil, for garnish, if desired
– Sun-dried tomatoes, slivered, for garnish, if desired
– Crusty bread, Italian breadsticks, or crostini crackers
– Preheat oven to 375ºF.
– Spread the pine nuts on a baking sheet and toast for 3-5 minutes or until golden. (Stir and check on them after 3 minutes.) Pour onto waxed paper and cool.
– Place the four cheeses into the bowl of a food processor, and process until well-blended.
– Add the pesto (drain first if the pesto is runny).
– Pulse to incorporate. If the mixture is too stiff, add half-and-half to reach the desired consistency.
– Remove the mixture to a bowl and stir or work in the tomatoes with your hands.
– Refrigerate for at least an hour.
– When ready to serve, shape the cheese mixture into a ball (or star or tree). Roll the ball in the toasted pine nuts, pushing the nuts into the ball, if necessary. Garnish with fresh basil and slivers of sun-dried tomatoes.