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Cheese Course Help!

  • b

So I'm doing dessert for a small group (just 4 of us) on Saturday and was thinking of putting together a cheese course, and figured I'd use Chowhound to get suggestions.

I've only gotten into cheese in the last year or so, so there are huge holes in my knowledge and pairing abilities. Here goes:

My current thoughts are (1) taleggio (2) very unsure (3) humboldt fog and (4) valdeon, with the obvious figs, walnuts, honey, and grapes. Also thinking a late harvest Muscato to round it out.

My questions are (1) am I going about this the wrong way in mixing these cheeses? (2) if so, what are some alternatives, (3) any suggestions for cheese number two? (4) how much total cheese do I need for 4 ppl (thinking 3/4 pound)?

Thanks much!

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  1. I'll have to think about a cheese No. 2, but my first reaction is that I'd rather have red wine with those cheeses than a late harvest wine. Will be interested to see what others have to say. I like to serve slices of toasted nut/raisin bread with cheese. Don't know where you live, but here in NYC I usually buy those little walnut raisin rolls and slice them & toast them. I'd probably get a half pound or so of each cheese and then enjoy leftovers, if any.

    3 Replies
    1. re: MMRuth
      b
      BabyLItiGator

      Thanks for all the help so far!
      The second cheese is starting to look like a piave or a manchego or parm (I love roaring 40s, but the wax just isn't great for presentation).
      Also having second thoughts about humboldt fog. I love the texture, but the thought of trying to cut a room temperature 1/4 pound piece of a cheese that tall into tasting-sized pieces is a bit scary. Might grab a bucheron instead.

      Any thoughts on wine pairing?

      1. re: BabyLItiGator

        What about a Tomme de Savoie?

      2. re: MMRuth

        It might depend on the intensity of the moscato in question. Many dessert wines have enough fruit and acidity to complement cheese well. I think the typical apricot flavour of a sauterne will work well with the cheeses you've listed so far, especially the humboldt fog.

      3. One thing I would say as someone who loves a good cheese course, please beware and know your guests - some of us are allergic to nuts and cannot have this great bread w/ nuts in it...and cannot have anything on the same plate...this has sadly ruined (before I started asking) entire cheese plates for me...just a note in case you are unsure of some of your guests...

        1. I wish I could help you, but alas, wine and cheese pairing is a relative weakness for me. It sounds like you have sketched out a plan, and I personally love Humboldt Fog. Laura Werlin has written a book on wine and cheese pairings that would be a good resource. If you don't get the help you need here, you should repost on General Topics where cheese issues are typically discussed. You also might want to scroll down on that board since similar questions have been recently asked. Good luck!

          1. that sounds like a good start. keep in mind, it's nice to vary texture, type of milk, and age. Humboldt fog will definitely appeal to all types of folks, cheese novice or afficionado. Taleggio will be for the bolder dispositions. i'd go for a sheep's milk as well. and something aged. and a blue is always good...
            a cheese plate i did a while ago fed about 6 folks...

            mirableu (spanish pyrenees) - grenacha spanish red

            vacherion mont d'or - raw cow's milks, soft rind like brie, REALLY pungent, served with baguettes and boiled potatoes, also with the spanish red

            Banon Feuille, soft creamy goat cheese, like chevre, usually wrapped in chestnut leaves and cured in brandy, drizzled with honey and chopped roasted hazelnuts -- with spanish cava

            fiore sardo, aged sheep's milk cheese from italy

            murcia al vino--semi soft, rinsed in red wine. similar to drunken goat, mild enough for novices.

            i just loaded up on grenacha (las rocas) and some cava. folks contributed other things. for four folks, i wouldn't go fo rmore than 1/2 pound of each type of cheese. but i serve other food, too. so if it's primarily cheese, add a couple of ounces more.

            quince paste (membrillo) is really good with taleggio. as are any pantry preserves, like fig, raspberry, or more exotic ones like apple garlic (from earth and vine i think).

            for wine, the moscato may detract from teh nuances of those cheeses. i'd opt for standard reds, and whites. Cava or champagne is always a good choice. If you want something sweeter, asti spumante would be delicious.

            good luck

            1. It sounds good so far, you've got a goat, a strong cow and a bleu. If you're going for diversity, I would probably round it out with either a hard cheese (parm, pecorino, dry jack) a cheddar or a semi-soft.

              1. Is this after a meal or before a meal?

                If you want the best participation, I suggest serving each person a plate with very small slices, about two or three small bites each. Limit the cheeses to three or four. Include something a little sweet, a little crisp, and a little tart. You can also serve a very small salad dressed with simple vinaigrette.

                If you just put out hunks of cheese people are less likely to sample.

                Have the cheese out for three of four hours but slice just before serving. If you slice to early it will sweat and get an oily sheen.

                The choices you have so far are good. I would add an easy to like blue like Roaring 40s.

                1. I agree with those who are suggesting a hard cheese (traditionally they say "something old (or hard), something new (or soft), something goat, something blue"). You've got a soft cheese, a goat cheese and a blue cheese, so you need a hard/aged cheese.

                  Unless you know your guests are cheese lovers, I'd pick something a little less unfamiliar/challenging than your other selections. A good quality cheddar or an aged gouda would be nice. With cheese lovers I sometimes like to do a spiced/herbed/flavored hard cheese (I used a beautiful marbled Guinness Cahill for a recent cheese plate, and it was a striking presentation).

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    I, like Ruth, think you would do well to re-think your more unusual choices (unless you are dealing with seasoned cheese lovers). Personally, I find Taleggio a delightfully fun cheese--who wouldn't love food that wiggles so much? But the smell is quite overpowering--it pretty much killed my tastebuds for anything else, which probably wouldn't be ideal for a cheese course.

                    If you have reasons for really wanting the Taleggio, perhaps you should warn your guests to taste it toward the end. Keep Taleggio well wrapped and away from other cheeses. The folks at Cowgirl Creamery in SF actually handle that cheese with latex gloves because they say if they just use their hands it makes all the other cheeses smell like Taleggio!

                    1. re: nooodles

                      I'm confused. I learned to love Taleggio while living in Italy, and I don't remember it ever being as stinky as you suggest. In fact, except when it is very very ripe (ie. going bad) it reminds me of the creamy texture (but more interesting flavor) of triple cream brie. Are we thinking of the same product?

                      1. re: Pupster
                        b
                        BabyLitigator

                        Point taken. Switching to a camembert for the soft cheese, then humboldt fog, an aged gouda, and humboldt fog w/ a fruity sauterne.

                        1. re: BabyLitigator

                          Hold on one sec! I don't want to outright challenge nooodles, but I really think he/she is wrong about the stinkiness of taleggio. I don't know where he gets his version, but taleggio is a lovely cheese with some nuttiness, but nowhere near the stinkiness of a camembert. It's actually quite mild in smell, comparable to a triple creme Brillat-Savarin. If you choose to go another way, fine, but don't do it based on wrong information.

                          1. re: Pupster
                            b
                            BabyLitigator

                            I'll base it on a taste test. My cheesemonger is pretty good; I'll decide on the spot.

                            1. re: BabyLitigator

                              Hm, who knew? My sole experience with taleggio has been with Cowgirl Creamery in San Francisco. The cheesemongers there seemed to always warn people that Taleggio is very stinky and that they should be careful. I do sincerely apologize for steering people the wrong way if there are mild versions of taleggio. I just assumed, since the cheesemonger didn't say "Our version is really stinky," etc.

                              And yes, the texture is divine, like a good brie, but even smoother.

                              1. re: nooodles
                                b
                                BabyLitigator

                                So I went with a Taleggio (the Cheese Cask had a good one in), a Humboldt Fog, and Valdeon. Went over very well. Thanks for all the help!

                            2. re: Pupster

                              It depends on the Taleggio. I've had taleggio that is smooth and creamy, like a good but more flavorful exploratour and I've had high stink taleggio that smells like Epoisse. I believe it's a matter of age.