A traditional cheese tray isn't complete without the classic cubes of cheddar cheese, but gourmet crackers and other accompaniments can give it a modern twist your guests will appreciate. Commercial brands of cheddar cheese are similar in taste and texture, but artisan versions of the cheese, found in most grocery stores, will really make your cheese tray stand out. If you choose a gourmet version of cheddar, it's important to pair it with crackers that complement the flavor without overwhelming it.
Neutral crackers without a really strong flavor make a good foundation for strong cheeses. A well-aged or smoked cheddar will stand out served with plain whole wheat, butter or water crackers. If your cheese has added ingredients, such as cracked black pepper or beer -- yes, some cheddar cheeses are made with ales or stouts -- the plain crackers will allow those flavors to shine through. Most sesame crackers don't have a strong flavor and the mild nuttiness complements a sharp cheddar. Even the saltiness of a plain saltine cracker is a good accompaniment to a strongly smoked cheddar.
Spice It Up
The texture and taste of cheddar cheese becomes harder and more complex as it ages, but young cheddar is milder and creamier than aged cheddar. This cheese contrasts well with a strong or spicy cracker. Crackers with roasted garlic or black pepper pair well with simple cheddar cheeses. To easily dress up crackers with your own flavor profile, melt some butter with cayenne pepper or red chili flakes and brush it on top of simple whole wheat crackers. Pop the crackers into the oven for a few minutes to set the flavor and serve with a mild cheddar cheese.
Herbs complement the flavor of nearly every type of cheddar cheese. Rosemary crackers can stand up to an aged cheddar, with neither flavor dominating the palate. Crackers with Italian herbs set off the creaminess of a young cheddar. Break herbed flatbread crackers into smaller pieces to serve with your cheese. You can also create your own herb combinations for your crackers by melting butter with herbs and brushing onto plain crackers. Put the classic song into practice by using parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme together, or keep things simple with tarragon.
While many cheese boards are served up with tidbits of fruit, there are some gourmet crackers that come with fruit baked into them. Crackers with raisins are a slightly sweet complement to a medium-aged cheddar, while crackers with dried apricots pair well with a very sharp cheese. If you can't find or make crackers with fruit in them, spread whole wheat or butter crackers with apple butter and top with a cube of mild cheddar cheese.
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