Cheese is more than just peeling back the wrapper on a slice of American cheese. There are proper buying, storage and serving procedures that will help maintain freshness and ensure enhanced flavor and texture.
When buying cheese consider these three items.
1) Where to Shop
- Choose a reliable source such as a specialty market or gourmet grocery store.
- Find a cheese only market or a cheese restaurant. Many large metropolitan areas have restaurants that serve only cheese and wine.
- Shop at a gourmet food store that specializes in cheese.
2) Amount to Purchase
- Buy only what will be consumed with in a few days. Flavors and aroma of fine cheeses change over time in a home refrigerator.
3) Characteristics of Cheese
- Cheese should present the characteristics of that particular style. The interior should not have cracks, mold or discoloration in any form.
- Natural rind cheeses have a rustic appearance. The rind on the outside of these cheeses is a side product of production.
Blue or Roquefort styles will have some mold and cracks; this is a normal characteristic of these types of cheeses.
- Taste and sample. Follow your pallet and choose flavors that appeal to you.
When you fist bring cheese home remove it from the plastic wrap or plastic bag it has come in. This type of storage is only good for transporting the cheese from shop to home. Re-wrap the cheese in waxed paper or parchment paper. This will allow the air and moisture to circulate around the cheese. Air and moisture are integral to keeping the cheese in the best possible condition.
When serving cheese serve no more than 5 varieties at a time. Vary the size, shape, flavor and texture to add interest. Choose a wooden board or marble slab to serve on. If you have a silver tray with a wood insert this is an elegant way to add a special touch. Remember to never crowd the serving tray and place bread or fancy crackers on a separate tray. If the cheeses served have strong distinctive flavors use separate trays and serving utensils. Mild flavors will pick up aromas and tastes from stronger flavored cheese.
Cheese can be accompanied by fresh ripe fruit, such as apples, pears, grapes, strawberries, fresh figs, or melon. Even thin sliced onions are a delightful accompaniment. Remember to slice all the fruit, onions and bread thin and in bite size pieces.
As a desert, cheese can be very elegant, or as a light course after the entree and before desert. When serving as an appetizer cheese should be coupled with a light dinner due to the filling nature of most cheeses.
Serving cheese chilled or at room temperature is a matter of personal preference. Room temperature cheese has more flavor and distinctive characteristics than chilled cheese. Room temperature can be achieved by leaving the cheese out for 30 minutes before serving. Remember to keep watch that the cheese does not get to warm and begin to sweat.
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