Embracing the Cheese Course
By Jeanne Carpenter | Photo By Uriah Carpenter 0
Remember when serving a “cheese tray” for guests usually meant one of two things? Either it was December and time for the obligatory holiday cheese ball rolled in finely chopped pecans, served via a fancy-handled cheese spreader with a round of Ritz crackers for the cousins; or the neighbors were coming over, so your parents brought out the “good cheese”–blocks of colby and cheddar sliced in pretty little squares and served with Townhouse crackers fresh from the box.
In Wisconsin, those days aren’t so far behind us. While I enjoy a party cheese ball as much as the next person, I have good news: cheesemakers—and especially those in Wisconsin— are crafting more original and artisanal cheeses, which means our options for assembling a cheese tray are now nearly endless. With more than 600 types, styles and varieties of cheeses now being made in the state, bringing out the “good cheese” is easier than ever (or possibly made more difficult with all the choices).
Cheddar Flight Cheese Tray
Perhaps one of the easiest cheese trays to assemble is the cheddar flight. All you need is four aged cheddars, a package of Potter’s Crackers made in Madison, and a fruit chutney. When serving any cheese tray, I like to include a wedge of the cheese in its original form, along with strips or slices of cut cheese (never cubes), so guests can get an idea of how the cheese originally looked, and then taste it at the same time.
With a cheddar flight, it’s important to guide guests in eating the cheese in a specific order. You’ll want to start with the least aged cheddar, and work up to the most aged. This lets your palate adjust and appreciate the differences in taste and complexity as the cheese ages. Here’s a sample cheddar flight, arranged in order, from left to right:
- Two-Year Cheddar from Widmer’s Cheese Cellars in Theresa
- Six-Year Cheddar from Carr Valley Cheese in LaValle
- 10-Year Cheddar from Hook’s Cheese in Mineral Point
- 12- or 15-Year Cheddar from Hook’s (depending on availability)
Each cheddar should be tasted separately, on its own, first without crackers, fruit chutney, or wine, so guests have the opportunity to appreciate the cheese. After the first taste, encourage guests to mix up the tasting with a bit of cracker or chutney, to see how each cheese differs with pairings. If serving wine, consider a Sauvignon Blanc or Cabernet Sauvignon. A wheat beer also pairs well with a flight of cheddars.