Cheese for the new guy
What kind of cheeses would chowhounds recommend for someone who just started looking at trying different cheeses? Also what kinds of jams and crackers and other things would you guys recommend and with what cheeses?
Good cheese doesn't need jam, but fresh or fried fruits pair nicely with many cheeses. Bland crackers like water crackers will let a good cheese shine. Without knowing what you might already be familiar with, it's hard to make recommendations, but talk to the people selling the cheese, they can steer you in the right direction and will give you samples to see what you like. Humbolt Fog is wonderful stuff, if you can find it. Try a Spanish manchego (commonly paired with quince paste, which is not a jam and complements it very well). Stilton wit
h a nice ripe pear.
I love any type of stone ground wheat crackers or crackers with seeds and grains; it adds to the chew IMO. Smoked Gouda, manchego, extra sharp cheddar are some of my favorites as well as herbed spreadable cheeses and specialty cheeses studded with flavors like onion, garlic or nuts. I like red grapes pickled with warm spices like cinnamon, clove, ginger and star anise which I think are perfect spooned over feta or goat cheese spread on a crisp crostini. Other choices that go well with cheese are fig preserves, date nut preserves and tomato jam
Cheese, especially quality cheese can be pretty expensive and the best thing you can do is taste.
Do you live somewhere with a good cheesemonger? like Murray's? http://www.murrayscheese.com/
specialty cheese shops and cheese counters will let you sample before you buy and usually have cheese out for tasting
another thought is to order the cheese plate out in restaurants and bars and make note of what you like.
typical nice pairings I can think of are Manchego/Fig, Cheddar/Apple, Brie/Cranberry, blue/honey
a big question - a big topic. no easy answers. I second JTPhilly's comments below - find a good cheese store or cheese department [my local grocery store has a good cheese dept], and start asking Qs and tasting. Do you prefer a strong tasting cheese? spreadable/creamy? blue cheeses?
Most cheese is aged - and the older the cheese, the stronger it is. You can get young asiago, young provolone, young gouda, and so on. nice and sweet and mild. And the older they get, the more personality they develop. You just need to keep tasting.
If you like good cheddar, try a stilton or two - some of them are made with fruit [eg, mango, cranberry, blueberry].
Humboldt fog is wonderful, but be prepared for a slightly smoking/ashy taste. I love blue cheeses, and i usually have several varieties around. some are milder than others. a couple are creamier. Roquefort is the ultimate French bleu, but don't ignore Italy's gorgonzolas [both the dolce and the forte]. Danish bleus are great, and there are some lovely US blues as well [Maytag, Salem are two that come to mind].
St. Agur is an easy to like, reliable and relatively easy to find blue cheese. I recommend eating some plain and also spreading some on a fresh baguette.