So, you’re the lucky devil who gets to bring cheese to the party. Congratulations! You officially have the most fun assignment. Anyone else bringing food, whether it’s a store-bought baguette or their great aunt Helen’s famous homemade brownies, will be immediately overshadowed by a good cheese board. Mouths will water, conversations will stop, and, all of a sudden, the cheese will be the star of the show. And you didn’t even have to turn on the oven!
That said, we all know the feeling of freezing up in front of a cheese counter, staring at a sea of options and blanking on the names of every cheese you’ve ever enjoyed. Never fear! With our six tips cheese shopping is fun, not flummoxing.
Gather the Facts
Do your research before you shop. How many people will be attending the party? Is it a dinner party where cheese will be one of many courses, or will it be a snack served over cocktails? Are these adventurous eaters, or the type of group that will find anything beyond Brie overwhelming?
The best way to shop for cheese like a pro is shopping for cheese with a pro. Most of us in the U.S. didn’t grow up eating carefully curated cheese boards, and cheese professionals know that— if they don’t introduce customers to new cheeses without stuffiness or intimidation, they’re not going to sell cheese. Go to a shop staffed by passionate cheese geeks, known as cheesemongers, who are excited to talk and taste you through the options. This could be a local cheese shop or even your favorite grocery store; both Whole Foods and Kroger have excellent cheese programs.
State the Facts
When you walk in, you should be greeted with a smile and either a taste of cheese or a “What can I help you find today?” Rather than feeling like you have to start listing off cheeses, help them help you by sharing some essential details. For instance, if you’re shopping for a party tomorrow, they’ll give you a riper cheese than if you’re shopping for a party next week. Other important details include how many people you’ll be serving, how many cheeses you want to buy, and whether cheese is the bulk of the food or if it’ll be one of several things served.
How much cheese should you buy for a party? Most cheesemongers will recommend one ounce per person per cheese, and three to five cheeses, in a range of styles.
Taste, Taste, Taste!
Even if you bought the same exact cheese from the same exact shop last week, cheese is a living thing. Different batches can vary widely, depending on ripeness, seasonality, storage, and other factors. You’ll know you’re at a good shop if they offer you a taste of a cheese before they let you buy it. And if they don’t, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask for one.
After you’ve chosen your cheeses, pick a few pairing items. Honey, nuts, dried fruit, and pickles are always safe bets, but don’t be afraid to be creative here. Serving potato chips to dip in oozy Brie-style cheese, or chocolate as a vessel for blue cheese, will delight your fellow party-goers. And don’t forget about carbs! All good cheese boards come with bread, crackers, or both —ideally, one fairly neutral option (white baguette, water crackers, etc.) and one with more flavor and texture pizzazz (miche, seeded crackers, etc.).
Return and Report
The best way to ensure repeated success at the next party? Go back to that cheese shop, find the monger you worked with last time, and let them know how it went. By building a relationship with a monger or group of mongers at your favorite shop, you’ll ensure that future shopping trips are easier and more successful because they’ll know you, your likes, and, even more importantly, your dislikes.