Historians date cheesemaking to as early as 6000 BC, the first product being an accidental discovery in the Middle East. Cheese is truly an ancient fare, appearing in the writings of both Homer and Aristotle, but in modern times has emerged around the globe as one of the world's most popular foods. In the United States and Europe, cheese trays serve as the ultimate appetizer. Hosts use them to cater to a multitude of different tastes with little to no preparation. Paired with fruit or wine, cheese can even serve as the main component of a small meal or dinner party. Choosing three to five varieties from the thousands available might seem overwhelming, but providing a well-rounded selection is key to presenting a balanced and appealing cheese tray.
Choose a Theme
Most experts suggest designing your cheese tray around a specific theme. You can create a theme around almost any aspect of the cheeses -- country of origin, milk type, or texture. For instance, a tray consisting of French cheeses might include a familiar Brie, chevre (goat cheese), and a Roquefort blue cheese, while a tray based on sheep's milk cheeses could include a Manchego, Pecorino, or a Roncal.
Cheese trays most often include at least one soft or semi-soft cheese. Soft cheeses come in hundreds of varieties, many available at supermarkets or smaller local shops. You can include a familiar variety, like Camembert or cheddar, or introduce your guests to a less common selection like Port Salut or Boursalt. Soft cheeses do not all possess the same texture or flavor, so experiment with a mild, creamy cheese like a brie, or serve a crumbly, salty one like a Greek feta. Goat cheese also fall into the soft cheese category, and makes a nice alternative to popular cow's milk selections.
Hard cheeses are those that have aged for months or even years. Generally bold in flavor, many cooks grate these cheeses and add them to savory dishes. They also work well for cheese trays, however, as a more pungent counterpart to milder soft selections. Popular hard cheeses include Parmigiano Reggiano, or a parmesan substitute like Asiago, Manchego, or Pecorino Toscano. Try an aged gouda, dry Monterey Jack, or mimolette as different options.
Blue cheese's coloration comes from the mold Penicillium, injected by cheesemakers to achieve the distinct color. Blue cheeses are generally pungent, and can range in texture from rich and creamy to semi-firm and crumbly. Maytag Blue, Stilton and Roquefort dominate most supermarkets, but you can also include Fourme d'Ambert or a Danish blue, if available in your area.
- "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook"; Ina Garten; 1999
- "The Paramus Post"; Assemble a Cheese Tray to Wow Your Guests; December 2006
- Photo Credit Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images Michael Blann/Digital Vision/Getty Images Eising/Photodisc/Getty Images
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