Wednesday, October 28, 2009

cheese party!

the power of cheese is not to be overlooked. admittedly i'm biased since i happen to make a living constructing cheese platers. in fact, i think cheese is the dominating factor keeping me from turning vegan. that said, last weekend i hosted an impromptu celebration of cheese and local ale. the motivating factor was that clark's, our neighborhood ale house, held their annual "the people's real ale festival". they featured around 20 cask conditioned ales from new york state micro breweries - pretty darn cool. so we, the peoples, (the fiance and i) had some friends over for cheese to go with the ale.

as far as i'm concerned cheese and beer were made for each other. like any healthy relationship - they bring out each other's best qualities. i made a quick trip over to a little lebanese grocery - samir's imported foods - they sell amazing cheese for cheap. at samir's i also bought dates, cashews, hazelnuts, olives, and honey to pair with the cheeses. all this deliciousness was served with toasted italian stretch bread from pasta's daily bread, a delightful bakery which is conveniently located a stone's through from my crib.

{ the cheese line up }

gorgonzola ~ a buttery-rich, crumbly, slightly earthy and quite salty blue. i heart mold. the "gorg" paired amazingly with date and hazelnut.

asiago ~ a hard, grass-fed cow's milk cheese. this aged italian has a sharp, full-mouth flavor - similar to romano or parmesan. i usually cook with asiago i also find it to be of great character for a spread. it paired wonderfully with some drizzled honey and a bit of rosemary.

pepato (the "mystery peppered cheese") ~ an aged sheep's milk cheese embedded with black peppercorns. it had a flakey, yet creamy consistency with a salty-piquantly sweet flavor. the pepato was my favorite and went splendidly with olives. (if i was to serve cured meat - this cheese would be awesome with prosciutto or serrano ham.)

{ some cheese party hosting tips }

1. don't serve cold cheese: about 45 minutes before your guests arrive take the cheese out of the fridge and cover. the cheeses' flavor is most enjoyed when served at room temperature, especially hard cheese. i promise it won't spoil, just cover it to prevent contamination until party time.

2. prevent an identity crisis: identify the cheese for your guests. it can be hard for them to figure out/remeber the cheeses. the tags/flags don't need to be fancy. i've seen cool cheese flags sold at specialty kitchen stores- but they are pricey and will inevitably get lost in that kitchen junk drawer. (yeah, we all have one). so here is a simple-last minute solution: fold a piece of paper in half and cut flag shapes out along the fold, then label each flag. take a couple sticks of uncooked pasta (like spaghetti) brake them in half, and then taped a piece of pasta in the fold of each flag. finally tape the flag shut. this took maybe 5 minutes its not fancy- but hey, it works!

3. spread the spread: group the cheeses with their best accompaniments (i.e. dates next to the gorgonzola) and place the cheese groupings at different tables around the party. this way people get the hint on what items work together and crowding around one table is prevented.

***note: at the party i totally spaced taking pictures of the spread, so the above photos i shot after the fact. hence the small amount of queso and the condensed manner in which they are placed...

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