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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

STEPHANIE ZONIS focuses on good foods and the people who produce them. Click here to contact her.

 

December 2006

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Cheese-Butter-Yogurt

Whey To Go ~ December 2006

Cheese And The Holidays

  • Click here to jump to this month’s recommended cheese
  • Click here to read other months’ columns

My name is Stephanie Zonis, and welcome to Whey to Go! for December, 2006. Every month, we’ll delve into a new cheese-related subject, and I’ll offer a recommendation on a cheese I love.

 

The holidays are here again. You swore that this year you’d make it easier on yourself, remember? You weren’t going to wait till December to get everything done. So much for good intentions, eh? But just when you think all is lost, cheese can step in and help rescue you. Cheese? Absolutely! Cheese makes a wonderful gift, and if there’s a better food to have for around for guests, I don’t know about it. But where do you start?

Cheese Gifts

Let’s begin with the idea of cheese as a gift. You’re trying to make a good impression with your gift, so the last thing you want to do is go to that hastily set-up, temporary kiosk in the mall where they sell pasteurized processed cheese food (whatever that may be) and cheese balls in unnatural colors. You need to go to a reliable, knowledgeable retailer (more on those later). How do you decide on a type? Something that can help you here is any knowledge of the recipient’s food or drink preferences.

  • If your recipient delights in complex red wines or sweeter whites or microbrews, send a few cheeses that would pair well with such beverages.
  • If he or she is a genuine culinary explorer, you might do well to send more adventurous cheeses, perhaps something in an aged sheep’s milk or goat’s milk variety.
  • On the other hand, if you don’t know your recipient’s tastes well, or if they’re more of the “gustatory mainstream” type, it would probably be better to send a classic cheese or three, such as a good Parmigiano-Reggiano, a Manchego, or one of the new American classics, like Pleasant Ridge Reserve.
  • For a genuine change of pace, send cheeses as an accompaniment to that New Year’s Eve champagne. Believe it or not, cheese can be the perfect “go with” for the bubbly; recommendations for such cheeses range from Chaource to Explorateur to San Simon.
Grand Cru Selection
Murray’s Grand Cru gift set offers the most outstanding cheeses in their respective classes paired with the most highly-regarded accompaniments: Robiola la Rossa from Italy, a musky, mixed-milk cheese gift wrapped in cherry leaves; Abbaye de Citeaux, the coveted French aromatic pleaser; Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a nutty and warming farmstead selection from Wisconsin; Amanteigado, tart and lanolin, from Portugal; and Parmigiano-Reggiano, of course. Accompaniments include Lambrusco Wine Jelly, Fudge's cracker selection, Marcona almonds and, for a special treat, Pralus’ La Pyramide des Tropiques single origin chocolate bars.
  • Remember that variety is the spice of life, so several smaller parcels of different cheeses will probably be better than one large hunk of just one type.
  • If someone has been a paragon of virtue all year (yourself, perhaps?), consider rewarding them with a “Cheese of the Month” Club or Mini-Club gift, usually offered for a minimum of three months and a maximum of twelve, but check to see how much cheese you’ll receive per shipment and what will accompany the cheese (you want to make sure the money you spend isn’t going primarily into pretty boxes and ribbons).

Cheese is more perishable than some traditionally-sent holiday consumables, true, but it’s infinitely more memorable than a can of stale salted nuts, or some mediocre chocolates with pink and green “holiday” decorations.

Serving Cheese During The Holidays

I always have cheese in my fridge, but it’s never a better idea than at holiday-time. Cheese makes a great nibble all by itself, or you can pair it, of course, with fruit (fresh or dried), wine, or beer. And what better way to welcome a weary, cold traveler than with a freshly-made, hot-off-the-griddle, grilled cheese sandwich?

As you might expect, it’s wise to choose your cheeses according to your company (supposing they let you know before they show up!). If you’ll have little ones around the house, it’s not too early to introduce them to real, good-quality cheeses, but most of them will probably appreciate a less-strong Mimolette rather than Stinking Bishop or a pepper-studded cream cheese. Then again, if you’ve got more of an adult crowd and you know they like stronger flavors, try a good-quality Stilton or Shropshire Blue and perhaps a Livarot. It’s always smart to have several different types of cheeses available, including at least one versatile cheese that can do it all (be used in cooking, paired with alcohol, and eaten by itself or with crackers). And it’s nice to vary the type of cheeses you have, so that people have a choice between soft (easy to spread), semihard (nice to slice), and hard (the best type for grating). 
Mimolette
Mimolette From Murray’s Cheese: Produced in Flanders and other Northern parts of France, Mimolette is a natural rinded version of Dutch Edam. As it ages, the rind darkens to a deep brown and the interior turns a rusty shade of orange. Made of pasteurized cow‘s milk, Mimolette has the sweet, caramelized depth of an aged Gouda, with a dense, smooth texture that is fudgy in the mouth. It is famous for having been Charles de Gaulle’s favorite cheese. So, now you have an anecdote to serve as well as a great cheese.

With so many possibilities from multiple nations, so many choices between cutting-edge and “gold standard” cheeses, a good retailer can be your best friend. Want to send something similar to a classic Gruyere, but just a bit different? How about a cheese that’s like a Brie, but not the same old thing? Any in-the-know retailer will be able to make a few suggestions for you. In a perfect world, you’d have a great cheese boutique right in your neighborhood. If you’re not so fortunate, there are a handful of web merchants that have proven reliable over time. I hope you’ll choose to support some small-scale cheesemakers, those guided by taste and principles as well as the need for monetary gain.

In the end, the cheeses you select should be guided as much by your preferences as those of your retailer. Whatever you choose, take a minute or two to relax with and appreciate family and friends this year. May your holiday season be a bright one, and, whatever your drink of choice, let’s all start the New Year the right way—with good cheese!

Cheese E-tailers Of The Month

Murray's Cheese HandbookAs this month is all about knowledgeable retailers, I thought I’d mention the three I know best. All three are prominent retailers that have e-tail sites. Forgive me for repeating their names so frequently, but they sell top-quality products (this isn’t the case with all cheese e-tailers!), and I have personal experience with each of these business.

Murray’s Cheese. New York City’s Murray’s has been in business for more than 60 years, so they must be doing something right. I like their selection, I like their service, and they have an informative holiday gift guide—you can even see it online. THE NIBBLE Editors find their staff to be the friendliest and most knowledgeable in New York City. One word of warning: if you go to either store (there are two, the main Greenwich Village shop and a convenient outpost in the Food Hall at Grand Central Terminal) to shop for cheese in person, bring an iron will. You’ll need it! Murray’s owner Rob Kaufelt has just published a wonderful, portable paperback guide to cheese, The Murray’s Cheese Handbook: More Than 300 of the World’s Best Cheeses. Buy it: It’s everything you need to know when you’re shopping for, storing and serving cheese. It makes an excellent stocking-stuffer.

Zingerman’s. Gift assortments by country, by degree of experience with cheeses, and Zingerman's Guide To Good Eatingmore. Good shipping practices. Michigan-based Zingerman’s has started a creamery and is now making a number of interesting cheeses of their own, including an excellent cream cheese (it tastes nothing like that silver, foil-wrapped brick you’re used to); they also sell imports as well as cheeses from other American cheesemakers. Zingerman’s Ari Weinzweig also has written a book, out since 2004, that covers cheese and other popular product areas. Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating: How to Choose the Best Bread, Cheeses, Olive Oil, Pasta, Chocolate, and Much More, more of a sit-down read than a throw-in-your-tote-and-shop guide, can be enjoyed in tandem with The Murray’s Cheese Handbook: both are bookshelf staples for the food-lover.

Ideal Cheese Shop. While I have the least experience with Ideal, a New York oasis of cheese in the decades before cheese attained its current level of popularity, I’ve still found an on-the-ball staff and a fine roster of cheeses here. Ideal seems to have frequent special offers. I like the ability to browse by country of origin online.

 

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