Monday, November 29, 2010

Tres Magnifique (aka "stinky cheese")

I did NOT go all out for Monday Food Fest tonight.  I know, I know... two weeks in a row?  But don’t fret.  Because we DID have a food fest.  I just didn’t cook much.
For tonight’s dinner, I was inspired by two things.
1.  We are, of course, the cheese capitol of the US, despite California’s claims.  There is a reason Packer fans where a large wedge of cheese on their heads, and it isn’t because it matches the uniforms.  (Although it does, actually.)One word.  2.  Thanksgiving.  Did anyone else gorge themselves beyond comprehension?  I mean, besides my husband.  Because I’m always very careful on Thanksgiving NOT to do that.  I wouldn’t want to make myself sick for the REAL holiday - which is, of course, Black Friday.  
After deciding on light and easy - first to commemorate the great dairy state, and secondly to make up for the gorgefest that was last week - I realized I’d been wanting to try my hand at a “sophisticated cheese tray” for some time.  You know, the kind they serve in fancy restaurants or on TV... the kind that looks like it walked off the pages of an Italian travel catalogue - or would have had it had legs.  And once I realized that, I came to the conclusion that this was a perfect time to discuss cheese trays - and a few of the pointers I learned - considering the abundance of opportunity to serve them throughout the holiday season.  So, here it is:  my official “sophisticated” cheese tray guide for your very own food fest.
I did a little online research, and you can find some handy and simple tips both here on ehow and here on Real Restaurant Recipes.  Also, if you’re trepidatious on the cheese front, or need a little shove out of your comfort zone from the packaged American variety, you can read all about cheeses here.
First, the most helpful tips I learned:
  1. You should serve at least three types of cheese; which should include a variety of flavors and textures.  At least: one soft (spreadable), One semi-soft or semi-hard, and one hard.  If you are afraid of the “crumbly” cheeses, like bleu or stilson, you can opt for a smoky variety of a more tried and true cheese.
  2. You should use a different knife to cut each cheese to avoid cross contamination of flavors.  So provide a knife for each cheese on the tray.
  3. The best thing to serve with cheese is crusty french bread.  But you can also use crackers, as per usual.
  4. The best fruits to use are grapes, apples, pears and raspberries.  But you should always opt for what you can get locally in season.
  5. Serve nuts as well - at least two types, like almonds or walnuts.
  6. Don’t forget to provide cheese forks, tongs or small sticks.
When you take a look at the links provided, you will also get tips on how you are supposed to cut each type of cheese properly.  I had no idea there were rules to dictate that, but apparently the cheese connoisseurs over in France and Italy have spoken.  
So here’s what I did:
I chose Gouda to serve for my mild cheese.  It came in a wheel, and therefore I cut it into small wedges.  I discovered that gouda tastes phenomenal when you pair it with crackers and red grapes.  Mmmm.  The whole family loves gouda, especially mr.  I knew it was a safe bet since he ate it in Germany all the time.  
For my crumbly, soft cheese, I chose stilson.  It’s a lot like bleu cheese, same stinky feet smell and all.  I actually like bleu cheese a lot, on salads and burgers and in different sauces and dishes.  But I discovered I do NOT like stilson.  At all.  I tried it several ways with different pairings and finally had to agree with bug that the only think it was good for was throwing on the floor.  (which he did, by the way.)  The only person in the group that liked it was dad, although mom said it was tolerable if you ate it with the honeycrisp apples.  Ew.
My third cheese was brie.  mr hates brie.  I made this recipe for baked brie that I found on Samster Mommy.  Though not a mild cheese by any means, I thought it was delicious.  Even mr said that brie was much better baked than not.  When paired with the raspberries, the brie was stellar.  Everyone liked it, except dad, who thought it was gross.  But he liked the stilson, so I don’t put much stock in his opinion.
For a foundation, I served some imported crackers and french bread.  I added honeycrisp apple, raspberries for the brie, and red and green grapes.  My nut options were pistachios and cashews.  I also added some black olives and calamata olives.  If you haven’t tried calamata olives, you should.  mr tried them for the first time tonight and loved them.  
Ah, yes, and most people couldn’t talk about a cheese tray like this without mentioning the wine served and what kind goes well with what... but my family doesn’t drink alcohol.  So, although I know it is nothing like wine, really, I served sparkling juice, just for fun.  We tried white grape, red grape, apple medley, and blueberry grape.  By unanimous vote the blueberry grape was the taste test winner.  It even beat my long-standing favorite, red grape.  My mom has called me a “nonalcoholic” for a very long time... I can drink them all under the table when it comes to sparkling juice.
I knew I needed to serve dessert as well, or it wouldn’t be a food fest.  So I went with chocolate mousse, which seemed nice and light.  I got a recipe from  I know, crazy, huh?  You thought I’d sworn off Martha for good, didn’t you?  Well, this recipe was a guest recipe from a chef in New York, and it was seriously good.  

But it ended up much more rich than I thought it would be!  I couldn’t even finish mine.  And although bug looked like this:  

he couldn’t finish either.  First time ever for these two chocoholics!
We really liked how different tonight’s dinner was.  I think it would be fun to serve at a holiday party or in the summertime when it’s too darn hot to cook.  Try it.  It’ll make you feel all chic and classy. 




Ashley said...

Kim, you are amazing! What a fun idea. I can't let my hubby see this because then he'd want to be married to you instead. :)

BJ_Mama said...

We are soo much alike! I love doing this! In fact it's usually a date night or New Year's Eve (if we have to stay in)
ANother GREAT pairing: OLIVES!

Miz Helen said...

Looks like a great party. Thank you for sharing and have a good week.

Lara Neves said...

Okay, that looks amazingly yummy. And yes, Wisconsin is definitely the cheese capital of the world, no question! (I live in Michigan, the Upper Peninsula and Green Bay is the closest big city for me to do things like, oh, shop!) Anyway, there are a couple cheese factories we LOVE to stop at when we are in Wisconsin.

Love your blog! I'll be back, for sure!

Pamela said...

Such a fun read. I love that you make a special fest for your family. We're big cheese lovers, too. I'll be back to keep up with your life.

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