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Make Your Cheese Tasting a Success

Cheese tastings include several servings that, just like a full course meal, grow stronger in consistency, taste and flavour, moving from fresh, bland, mild, to full-bodied, with the strongest tasting served last. Serve cheeses in the following sequence by type.


Serving your Cheese

  • Fresh and goat cheeses.
  • Flowered or washed rind soft cheeses.
  • Semi-firm cheeses
  • Firm cheeses
  • Blue-veined cheeses
  • Hard cheeses

Please consult Quebec's Specialty Cheeses list to know which cheeses belong to which families.


Display

Simplicity and cleanliness are the two basic rules to follow. Don’t use rimmed platters because they impede serving. Avoid platters with grooves or intricate carvings that are difficult to clean. Do not decorate your platter too much or use plastic vine-leaves. Never use metal or plastic to serve the cheeses. A simple wood cutting board, marble and glass offer ideal serving surfaces. It’s also important not to let the cheeses touch each other. Provide plenty of knives to avoid mixing flavours. Guests can choose what they prefer.

Shape is what determines a cheese’s place on a platter. Narrow wedges placed on each side of a round cheese, for example. Use added care with cheeses that crumble such as blue-veined varieties. Leave cheeses whole rather than carving them before the tasting. Outline where each cheese should be cut, however, to make serving easier during the party. Remove the straw surrounding the goat cheese because it impedes cutting and breaks the rounds apart. Portions should be small so that everyone can enjoy the whole tasting without feeling too full.


Cutting

This can be tricky. You don't want to butcher your cheese. Cutting soft cheeses is completely different from cutting blue-veined cheeses. In fact, there is a distinct way to cut each type of cheese. Differing shapes inherently call for varied cutting techniques so that rind and cheese are distributed equally, remembering that some people enjoy the rind.

  • Round and square: Begin at the centre, moving outward to form triangles, as you would a pie or cake.
  • Cylindrical: In parallel slices. Cut tubes in rounds, rolls in segments. If large enough, cut each in two or four pieces.
  • Small chunks: Quartered or cut in two.
  • Wedge of Brie: In strips parallel to one of the triangle's sides.
  • Blue cheeses: Cut in wedges, beginning at the centre. Each serving should have a “blue” part, which is the tastiest.

Tools

  • Provide a knife for each type of cheese. Nothing is more unpleasant than attempting to use a knife already covered with leftovers from all sorts of cheeses.
  • Picking up a piece of cheese that’s just been cut is easier with a cheese knife that has a forked tip.
  • Tin or pewter labels with stainless steel stems usually come with small pieces of cardboard on which to identify each cheese by name.

Side Dishes

Serve small goat cheeses in halves or whole on small plates with a herb salad garnish. You may want to add some olives and grilled and peeled hot peppers.

Dried fruits, whole or cut in strips, almonds, pistachios, are the perfect side dish for pressed and cooked cheeses such as Emmental. Nuts, along with thin slices of pears and either fresh or dried figs, depending on the season, blend ideally with blue cheeses. Add apples and raisins for a visually stunning presentation.

Sweets are not off limits. Add a few dates stuffed with blue cheese to your platter of blue-veined cheeses and serve with a glass of tawny port.


Breads

  • Purists claim cheese stands on its own. Others like to serve it with a selection of breads.
  • Place a cloth in a breadbasket, add the breads, either sliced or whole, and pull the cloth over to keep the breads from drying out.
  • Serve baguette with fresh goat cheese; country bread with Saint-Paulin; whole wheat bread with more acidic cheeses; pumpernickel with Edam and Gouda; rye bread with blue cheese, and don't forget nut, raisin, or sesame breads, crackers and other bread rusks. Try to cater to all tastes.

Wines, Cider and Beer

First taste the cheese alone. Next sip the wine, beer or cider. Then try both together, concentrating on how they complement one another. You'll know they are well matched when aromas, textures and flavours go together; remember the combinations that work for your future parties! You may want to stick to one kind of wine but glasses should be small because it is a tasting.

Contrary to popular belief, red wines do not generally go well with cheese because their grape tannin accentuates cheeses' bitterness. Lean in favour of white wines that complement most cheeses. If you must have red, you're better off with fresh and fruity wines that are light and fluid. When it comes to blue cheeses, you may prefer to serve mild dessert wines such as sauterne, Muscat, or Banyuls because the strong flavour of theses cheeses can overpower a the bouquet of a vintage wine.

While cider is the perfect match for Camembert, beers go well with a wide variety of cheeses. Serve pale and brown ales with goat cheeses, cheddar and Oka but not with blue-veined cheese. Wash down your Migneron de Charlevoix and Cantonnier de Warwick with a glass of wheat beer. Serve black beer with blue cheeses but never with goat cheese. Abbey Beer goes best with Roquefort and Stilton cheeses.


Recipes to try


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