“Something old, something new, something stinky, something blue.” So says the ancient wisdom of Cheesemongers, when deciding on which cheese varieties to put on a cheese board. If you want to build an exceptional cheese plate this holiday season to impress your loved ones, and pick up a few cheese facts along the way, I can help.
As a (self-proclaimed) turophile/caseophile/curd nerd and recently-relocated Wisconsin cheesehead, here are my holiday season cheese board recommendations. Forget old, new, stinky and blue. Forget pre-packaged slices of cheddar, colby and Swiss. The perfect cheese board has diversity of flavor, texture and milk type.
First, start with something spreadable like a French triple cream Brie. Brie is a soft, white mold ripened cheese and yes, you can eat the rind. Like ice cream, Brie only gets better with more butterfat. The extra portion of cream makes it buttery, creamy and gooey, particularly if served at the right temperature. Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt Tam is a delicious West Coast-made, triple-cream bloomy rind cheese, if you are looking for something more local. If Brie just isn’t your thing, blue or gorgonzola cheese are great alternates.
Next, add in wedges of a semi-hard yellow cheese like Gouda, which is pronounced “g(h)-OW-da,” not “g-OOO-dah.” Waxed-rind Dutch Gouda is exceptional, but you can find some unique American-made twists on traditional Gouda such as smoked Gouda or Gouda with added complimentary herbs like Caraway, Fenugreek or Cumin from Marieke Gouda. Emmi Roth Grand Cru cheese varieties, which are made in traditional copper vats and aged in their cellars, are more Alpine-style than Gouda, but it’s hard to beat their Grand Cru Surchoix. Especially if you don’t mind spending some real money on cheese.
You may have a cheese that reminds you of the flavors of your childhood that you want to add in. Outside of Kraft singles—which I don’t recommend adding to a cheese board—mine is Manchego cheese, which made in the La Mancha region of Spain from the milk of sheep. If you’ve ever tried Manchego and got more “barnyard” flavor than umami and nutty, let me recommend trying it again with a dollop of fig jam or, even better, traditional quince paste (membrillo).
Lastly, I like to give people something to talk about—something to surprise and delight—for the fourth and final cheese. Getting your hands on a contest winner should give you plenty of bragging rights. The winner of the 2022 World Championship Cheese contest was Gourmino Le Gruyere AOP, which also won the title in 2020 and 2008. Please save me a piece if you find it. Also in the award-winners category is my personal favorite Italian-style BellaVitano from Sartori cheese, which is soaked in Merlot wine, Espresso, or New Glarus Raspberry Tart Ale. The flavorful and edible rind will give your overall cheese plate a bold pop of color.
With that, you are armed and ready to face the specialty cheese aisle this holiday season. Bon appétit!