Cheese is making a comeback on the entertaining scene. Artisanal varieties of common types of cheese are rising in popularity and are being used in many different ways.

As more consumers become conscious of these locally produced, handmade cheeses, there is no more timely opportunity than a holiday party or new seasonal menu to feature them. Cheese can still be the main attraction of a party at home (paired with some favorite wines, of course). Or you can offer an end-of-meal course in your restaurant with 3 or 4 different kinds of cheese. Either way, your guests will appreciate the opportunity to explore artisanal versions of some of their favorites.

Coach Farms Green Peppercorn Pyramid
Hoja Santa
Jasper Hill Dairy Constant Bliss
Matos St George
Redwood Hills Crottin
Uplands Pleasant Ridge
Jasper Hill Dairy Bayley Hazen Blue

Max McCalman, Dean of Curriculum and Maître Fromager at the Artisanal Cheese Center in New York City, offers tips for serving cheese and the following recommendations. These cheeses are all available from The Artisanal Cheese Center. Call 877-797-1200 to order.

Studded with green peppercorns, Coach Farms Green Peppercorn Pyramid is a semi-soft goat’s milk cheese made by Coach Farms in upstate New York. After the initial fiery punch subsides, your mouth is calmed by the firm creamy flavor of the surrounding goat's milk cheese. This is the same cheese as the Coach Farms cone, only in a slightly larger, pyramid shape.

Wine Pairing:
A briary Zinfandel such as the Ravenswood Teldeschi Zinfandel 2000 from Dry Creek Valley

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Highly regarded cheesemaker Paula Lambert makes Hoja Santa goat's milk cheese at the Mozzarella Cheese Company in Dallas, Texas. The name of the cheese comes from the velvety heart-shaped leaves of local plants in which the cheese is wrapped. Hoja Santa, also known as "The Root Beer Plant," imparts a subtle sassafras flavor to this soft, fresh cheese.

Wine Pairing:
A Sauvignon Blanc such as the Jean-Paul Balland Grande Cuvée Sancerre 2002

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Jasper Hill Dairy Constant Bliss, a raw Ayreshire cow's milk cheese, is made exclusively from fresh, uncooled evening milk in Greensboro, VT. It has a very clean, creamy flavor, with hints of mushroom at the finish. Brothers Mateo and Andy Kehler, founders of this farmstead operation, named this cheese after a Revolutionary War scout who was guarding the Bayley Hazen Military Road commissioned by George Washington to fight the troops on the Canadian Front.

Wine Pairing:
Dry Champagne or a Pinot Noir. Try the Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV or the Archery Summit Red Hills Pinot Noir 2001

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Matos St George, a semi-soft farmstead member of the cheddar family, is made by a family that emigrated from the Azores to the outskirts of Santa Rosa, California.

Wine Pairing:
A Pinot Noir such as the Sea Smoke Ten Pinot Noir 2002

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Redwood Hills Crottin is an award-winning cheese from Sonoma County. This soft goat’s milk cheese has a gentle, tart and creamy flavor. It is strongly influenced by the French Crottin de Chavignol.

Wine Pairing:
A Chenin Blanc such as the Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2003 from South Africa

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Using only the very best Wisconsin milk from his personal herd, Mike Gingrich has created Uplands Pleasant Ridge, a cheese similar to those of Beaufort, France, but with a complexity of flavor that is distinctly American. It has a nutty, clean flavor and a finish that shows off the high quality of the milk.

Wine Pairing:
Dry champagnes, Chardonnays, and Merlot. Try the Au Bon Climat Talley Vineyard Chardonnay 2000 or the Havens Merlot 2001

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Since 2003, Mateo Kehler has been making Jasper Hill Dairy Bayley Hazen Blue from the raw milk of his Ayershire cows. Based on the recipe for Stilton, Bayley Hazen Blue has a woody natural rind reminiscent of tree bark, and a firm, dry paste with an aggressive blue flavor.

Wine Pairing:
A big red such as the Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel 2002

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1. Bring cheeses to room temperature before serving.
2. Offer cheeses with a variety of textures, appearances and flavors.
3. Offer a range of soft to hard cheeses.
4. A cheese plate should have no more than one blue cheese, but at least one sheep’s milk, one goat’s milk, ....and one or two cow’s milk cheeses.
5. Pair cheeses to be offered with more than one wine, and offer cider for the holiday designated driver.
6. Serve cheese with a neutral bread, such as a fresh crusty baguette, instead of crackers.
7. Cheese can also be served with sliced apple or pear, fig and almond cake, quince paste, or nuts.

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Related Links:
  • Fall Fruit and Cheese
  • Spanish Wine and Cheese
  • Truffle Honey

    ...Published: November 2004