So Many Delicious Cheeses and Lots of Recipes Too

How good (or bad) a party is often defined by the food you serve as well as the company you invite. The people I can’t help you with (unless you include me and then all bets are truly off) you might want to consider serving cheeses as part of the appetizers and possibly even the desserts.  Cheese is easy to serve and by getting a wide variety of different flavors and kinds you’ll be able to tempt the palette of just about everyone. You may want to forget your preconceived notions about cheese if they revolve around the cheddar you use for Mac and cheese and the mozzarella you top you pizza with.  You’ll want to open your mind (and wallet) to the possibilities of cheeses from around the world.

Cheese platter 101 begins with the idea that you will want both soft and hard cheeses which will run the gamut from mild and mellow tasting ones to the stronger more pungent flavored cheeses.Cheeses come from milk and the usual suspects that provide that milk are cows, sheep and goats. Cheeses are typically categorized and are usually described as gentle, sharp and strong and can have a rind or not. Younger cheeses tend to be mild, soft, and moist.  As cheeses age, they become more pungent, hard, and crumbly.

Fresh: These cheeses don’t have rinds. Examples are goat cheese, fresh mozzarella, Ricotta, Feta and cream cheese.

Semi-Soft:  A little firmer than fresh you melt well. Look for Gouda, queso asadero, Limburger, Provolone, Havarti and Monterey Jack.

Semi hard : can also be called semi-firm and the top three that I like in this category are Cheddar, Edam Beaufort, Cheshire and Gruyere. The can be grated fairly easily.

Hard cheeses:  cheese like a Parmesan, Sapsago and aged Asiago are very popular and easy to find.

Washed Rind: Cheeses like Tallegio, Limburger and Muenster have been washed or rested salty brine mixture. The brine creates an edible rind and protects the soft or semi-soft interior.

Bloom Rind: These cheeses have a soft sort of pliable rind on the outside.  Brie and Camembert are the two best known and most people ignore the rind and eat the softer inside.

Blue: The strongest flavor and smelling of the cheese. It usually falls into one of two categories, can’t get enough or never touch the stuff. Actual mold spores are used to create the distinctive flavor, taste and smell. Stilton and Maytag Blue, Saga Blue, Stilton, Roquefort and Gorgonzola are usually readily available.


For an attractive appetizer or dessert tray I say you should use 4 to 6 cheeses planning on about 2 to 3 ounces per guest (you will have leftovers). The cheese should be served at room temperature and I unwrap the cheese just before I serve it so that the cheese doesn’t dry out. I tend to arrange them in the order of hardness and always label them with some of their flavors and characteristics  so everyone know kind of what to expect when they pop it in their mouths. I always have a different knife or serving piece for each cheese so that the flavors don’t get confused. I have a variety of breads, crackers and fruits and dried fruits to accompany the cheeses. One other trick I’ve discovered to making cheese tasting an event rather than a chore is to pare the cheeses with wines that are made in the same region they come from.

Sometimes a cheese try just isn’t enough and you’ll feel the need to cook the cheese. The following appetizer recipes will allow you to add just enough other ingredients to keep the cheeses front and center.

PULL APART CHEESE STICKS

1 (11-ounce) can breadstick dough

1 1/2 cups shredded mild cheese mozzarella, provolone or smoked Gouda

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon oregano

About 2 cups warmed store-bought marinara sauce

Preheat oven to 375. Place parchment paper on a baking sheet.  Arrange the breadstick dough in single layer lengthwise on the parchment paper but DON’T separate the dough into individual breadsticks.  Sprinkle the cheese, basil and oregano over the top of the dough. Bake 10 to 11 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned. Remove the breadsticks from the oven. Let the breadsticks cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes. Pull apart the breadsticks and serve them with the heated marinara sauce. Makes 12. This recipe can be doubled or tripled.

TOMATO AND ONION TART APPITIZER

This can be served hot or cold

7 sheets phyllo dough, thawed

1/2 stick of butter, melted

2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 sweet onion, thinly sliced

2 cups shredded provolone or mozzarella cheese

6 plum (Roma) tomatoes cut into thick slices

8 10 fresh basil leaves, shredded or 1 tablespoon dried basil

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and spray paper with nonstick cooking spray. Lay 1 sheet phyllo dough on paper and brush lightly with a little melted butter. Sprinkle top of buttered phyllo with 1 to 2 tablespoons grated parmesan (don’t overdo it). Repeat the layering 6 more times (phyllo, butter, and cheese), making sure to press down on each sheet so it adheres to the previous layer.

When you’ve finished the layers, place the onions on top of the last layer making sure not to over load it. Sprinkle the provolone on top of the onions and then layer the tomatoes on top making sure you don’t overlap them. Sprinkle the basil (fresh or dried) over the top. Salt and pepper generously. Bake for 30 minutes and then let it cool for about 7 to 10 minutes before you cut and serve it Serves 8 to 10.

Modified and Submitted by Ronnie Smith Chicago, IL

SPINACH AND FETA MINI CALZONES

1/2 of a 17.3-ounce package Pepperidge Farm® Puff Pastry Sheets (1 sheet), thawed

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, chopped (about 1/4 cup)

1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (plain or flavored)

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400. Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until tender.  Add the spinach and cook for 3 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the heat.  Stir in the cheese and black pepper.  Let the mixture cool to room temperature.

Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface.  Roll the pastry sheet into a 12-inch square.  Cut into 16 (3-inch) squares.  Brush edges of the squares with water.  Place about 1 tablespoon spinach mixture in the center of each square.  Fold the pastry over the filling to form triangles.  Press the edges to seal.  Place the filled pastries onto a baking sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown.  Remove the pastries from the baking sheet and let cool on wire racks for 10 minutes.

Modified from Pepperidgefarm.com

CHEVRE MINI BOULES

1 large head garlic

1 small shallot

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

31/2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley

11/2 Tbsp. black sesame seeds

1 Tbsp. sesame seeds

2 Tbsp. champagne vinegar

11/2 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary

11/2 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme

Dash ground black pepper

Dash sugar

12 oz. Ile de France® La Búchette Goat cheese

French baguette, sliced

Separate garlic cloves from the head, leaving the skin on, and boil for four minutes. Drain, peel and mince garlic and shallot, and sauté in oil until golden. Keep garlic mixture in pan, and drain and discard. Add vinegar, rosemary, thyme, pepper and sugar to pan and cook for 3 minutes until liquid is evaporated. Crumble the goat cheese in medium bowl, add garlic mixture and stir until combined. Shape into 22 balls.

Place parsley, peppercorns and sesame seeds in 3 separate bowls, and roll balls in mixtures as desired. Serve with crusty French bread slices.

From Iledefrance.com

CREAM CHEESE GRAPE AND PISTACHIO

8 oz cold cream cheese

salt and pepper

16 red or green seedless grapes

3/4 cup crushed pistachios

Take a teaspoon or two of the cream cheese and mold it around each grape. Season lightly with salt and pepper and then roll it in the chopped pistachios. Place the grapes on a cookie sheet and refrigerate for at least 2 to 3 hours before serving. This is great next to a bowl of mixed nuts. If the grapes are really big you can cut them in half after they’ve chilled. Makes 16. This recipe can be doubled or tripled.

CRANBERRY ONION CREAM CHEESE BITES

1 tablespoon butter

2 cups thinly sliced sweet onions

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries (thawed), coarsely chopped or dried cranberries

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind

16 crackers (whole grain work well)

cream cheese (you can use fat free)

parsley leaves

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add onions, and sauté 15 to 18 minutes or until golden and tender. Stir in the vinegar, cranberries, sugar, salt, and orange rind; cook, stirring occasionally, 2 to 4 minutes or until liquid is reduced to about 2 tablespoons. Spread the crackers with about 1 teaspoon cream cheese; and then top each with about 1 tablespoon of the cranberry mixture. Garnish with parsley. Makes 16.

Modified from Southernliving.com

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Sugel
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 03:33:08

    Last month, Amanda Hesser posted a recipe for Baking Sheet Mac & Cheese on her blog food52 . In an “effort to realign” the creamy to crunchy ration of casserole-dish mac & cheese, Hesser bakes the cheesy pasta in a shallow, rimmed baking sheet; we’re talking about the kind you’d bake cookies or roast veggies on, a 12 x 17-inch rectangle with 1-inch sides. The result is a lot more surface crunch than you’d typically get. She actually posted two recipes: one mixing the cooked pasta with fontina, asiago, & heavy cream; the other mixing the pasta with two cheddar cheeses & topping with whole milk once it’s in the pan. I essentially combined her recipes, using ingredients & techniques from both to create a very tasty macaroni & cheese dish with A LOT of crunch on top…without using breadcrumbs! Before I give you my modified recipe, let me remind you that (1) mac & cheese is my all-time favorite thing to eat, and (2) I’ve been on a never-ending search for the perfect mac & cheese recipe. The closest I’ve gotten so far has been Tyler Florence’s Ultimate Macaroni & Cheese . This super-crunchy yet still cheesy version is giving Tyler a run for his money, that’s for sure.

    Reply

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