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Cheese Please!

by Kathy Casey

Cheese! From the big cheesy mozzarella pull you get when grabbin' a slice of pizza pie to the tangy twang from a crumble of Oregon blue cheese over your salad, I don't think there is a person who doesn't love it! And then there's the "something that I love to hate" about a slice of American on a burger.

Delish cheddar - although a favorite - just doesn't bite the same. We love it in our resurgent craze for mac-and-cheese, melted in enchiladas and stuffed in mushrooms, and nibbled after dinner with a glass of port.

Now that our society is starting to get over the fear of fat and realizing that fat has taste (and it tastes good!), cheese is making a permanent comeback. People not only want to enjoy the different flavors, they want to know where the cheeses are coming from, too. So for those of you who have yet to venture beyond cheddar, Swiss or American cheese, a whole world of scrumptious temptations awaits you from our own Northwest cheeses - Sally Jackson's, Quillisasquat, and Rogue River Oregon Blue - to California boutique cheeses and Europe's ultimate fromage.

Serving Cheese at Home

Recently Clark Wolf, food industry trend consultant and long-time supporter of the American Cheese Society, was in town touting some faboo California cheeses. He popped over during his whirlwind Seattle tour and we settled in for some nibbling and cheese chat.[Look for his upcoming cheese book, published by Simon & Schuster.] photo by Jason Tomczak

For the amateur cheese lover, Clark suggests trying a new cheese every week. When you can, buy your cheese from a person who knows what they're selling. This will allow you to ask questions and get direction on what you will and won't like.

When serving cheese at home, use a wood or marble board and serve three to five cheeses. On one board serve a soft, creamy cheese like brie or Cow Girl's Creamery triple cream, a sharp flavored cheese such as Gouda , and a firm cheese such as St. George or a dry Jack.

On a separate board, use two stronger cheeses, one stinky and one blue. Remove cheese from the fridge at least a half hour to an hour before eating. This helps to bring it to its proper temperature. Some cheeses ooze as they get warm, so it's best to place them, unwrapped, directly on the serving board or platter. (You can have a gooey mess when transferring between plates.) Loosely cover the entire dish. Serve the cheese in whole natural pieces and cut the pieces in half.

Most guests are timid in going for the first slice and ruining the perfect rind, so be a good host and start the cheese for them. Then they won't be afraid.

Although, Wolf remarks, "Don't put your cheese into cubes... that's just creepy."

Wine and Cheese

If unsure what to serve with your cheese, Wolf confirms that wine and cheese go hand in hand. Chardonnay goes well with cheddar and, if tasting a tangy cheese go for a more acidic wine or a creamy wine, such as a port, to soften the cheese taste.

The thing to remember is that there is a "vintage with wine every year and a vintage with cheese sometimes twice a day."

Besides wine, some nibbles that are great to serve with cheeses are fruits - pear or apple slices, grapes or dried fruits, nuts - toasted or natural, or nut breads. And what could be an easier appetizer than that. Just slice up some nice rustic breads, or serve flat bread or crackers.

Storing Cheese

To store your cheeses, keep the pieces wrapped in plastic wrap in your fridge. Each time you use the cheese, change the plastic wrap so it is always fresh. Soft cheeses with a bloomy rind, like Camembert, and bloomy-rind goat cheeses are best stored in a plastic container with the lid slightly open. This creates a lightly humid atmosphere with a little air for the cheese to breathe.

You can leave your cheese out but it just won't last as long. If you have a wine cellar, keep your cheese in it as cheese likes the 48- to 52-degree temp. Like any other dairy product, cheese is perishable, so it's best not to buy more cheese than you'll use in a week. If you do purchase a larger piece of something, cut off a bit for the week and store the larger piece in fresh plastic, in the bottom of the refrigerator where it's colder. This works great with firm cheeses, especially a cheese like cheddar that doesn't have a rind.

Cheese Rinds

Alison Leber, local food and wine consultant and the former owner of Brie & Bordeaux, gets down to the rind and clues us in on some key information. All cheese that has a rind, soft or firm, stops aging when cut, so you shouldn't expect the pre-cut brie you bought at the grocery store to age at home in the fridge.

And if you thought the rind was good for nothing, think again. Alison suggests saving all your old rinds in the freezer, particularly those from the premium Parmesan, Parmigiano-Reggiano. They are great for soup, stocks and risottos. Just put a rind in the dish while cooking, then discard (or munch on) when the dish is done.

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