Saying “cheese” around adults is kind of like saying “Santa Claus” around children — both represent a wonderful world of surprise and possibility. But, much like childhood devotion to Old Saint Nick, some of the things many of us believe about cheese just aren’t true.
Read on for the most common mistakes most people make when serving cheese. Luckily, they’re all easily fixed, and your cheese experience will be better for it.
Holding a grudge
The good news is that there’s a lot more cheese available in the U.S. than there used to be. The bad news is that some of that cheese is not very good. But, just because you once had a soapy chèvre or a metallic blue cheese doesn’t mean that every cheese in that style is bad.
Be open to trying different cheeses in that style, or maybe the same cheese again — even the best cheese won’t taste good if it’s overripe or has been sitting in the cold case for too long. Always try before you buy, and be willing to sample cheeses you’re unsure of. They may become your new favorites!
Calling everything “brie”
Most people misuse the word “brie” like they misuse “Kleenex.” Kleenex is just one of many types of tissues, and, technically, brie is just one of many cheeses in that style: a soft white rind, with a runny paste. All you have to do to be more accurate is add one word — call it a “brie-style” cheese.
Serving cheese cold
Much like wine, if you serve cheese too cold, you’re missing a lot of the nuance, to say nothing of the textural magic that happens when a cheese is properly tempered. Leave cheese out for at least an hour before serving, and longer if you can. Cheese has been a staple food for centuries because it’s essentially shelf-stable milk; as long as we’re not talking about fresh cheeses like mozzarella or ricotta, your cheese will be fine if it sits out for several hours.
Providing only one knife
If you’re hosting a party with hors d’oeuvres, rest assured, a good cheese plate will always go fast. Since there’s already probably going to be a line for the cheese, make it a bit easier on folks by providing two or three serving knives.
Pairing everything with red wine
If your favorite wine in the world is an oaked-out-of-its-mind Napa Cab, and you want to pair it with all your favorite cheeses, go right ahead. For the rest of us, though, white wine is probably better for general cheese pairing. The trick, really, is to pair things of similar intensities — a big red usually won’t go with a creamy brie, but it will go well with a hard mountain cheese like Comté. If you want a red that will go with most cheeses, try something a bit lighter, like a Beaujolais or Chinon. Or, why not some beer?
Serving nine hard cow’s milk cheeses
Try to vary your cheeses by texture and milk type; but keep in mind that, if you serve too many cheeses, it’s easy for people to get overwhelmed. Three to five is perfect.
Pairing it with out-of-season grapes and a flaccid, grocery store baguette
Grapes are fine with most cheese, and they’ll add some nice color to your Instagram snap, but there are many tastier options to pair with cheese — honey, pickles, chocolate, chutney, and beyond.
Bread deserves as much care as your cheese selections. Why not try a crusty miche or a rich, nutty whole wheat loaf? If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also serve potato chips or pieces of a chocolate bar as a vessel. Ask your cheesemonger what they like paired with the cheeses you’ve selected.
Leaving the rind behind
The rind is almost always edible and can add lovely texture and flavor, especially on softer cheeses. Does that mean that you’ll love it every time? Of course not. Does that mean you’re missing out if you don’t try it? Absolutely.
The exception here is cheese with a rind that is clearly inedible, such as colorful wax rinds or rock-hard Parm rinds. That said, the latter will add some nice flavor to your next soup! Throw Parm rinds in a bag in your freezer, and pop one of them, fully frozen, into simmering broth the next time you make a pot of soup. It won’t necessarily taste cheesy, but it will add a creamy, nutty flavor. Now that’s something to believe in.