For those of us who are in a state of Thanksgiving panic, the last installment of A Denver Guide to Thanksgiving offers a simple and elegant solution to appetizers–and desserts–that requires very little time. Forget baking, frying, or hours of chopping and slicing for your holiday appetizers. Cheese Platters show off one of the world’s most delightful foods in pure form, and Janet Schaus of The Truffle Cheese Shop in Denver is here to save the day with her expert advice on pairings, presentation, and selection. Her tips will take you from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year’s Eve parties, since cheese platters make excellent additions to any of these festivities.
And if you have not yet been to The Truffle Cheese Shop, do all of your senses a favor and stop by. You will find cheeses from around the world in this European-style shop. Because they specialize in small-batch, artisan, and farmstead cheeses, The Truffle Cheese Shop offers a rare treat for foodies. They also have every element, from cured meats to baguettes (from French bakery Trompeau) to jams and imported biscuits, that you will need for your platter.
Composing The Perfect Platter
Variety is the spice of life, and it’s also the key to an impressive cheese platter, according to Schaus. “What we like to do is vary milk types. Cow, sheep, goat, and water buffalo are the main milk types, and we like to include at least three of those. Vary the texture, so you have something hard and crumbly, something kind of medium textured, and then something soft. Then we like to vary the flavor profiles so you have something that appeals to all palettes. So something soft and creamy that’s a little on the mild side, something that may be a washed rind that’s flavor forward, and then maybe a blue or an aged gouda–something that’s going to have a lot of flavor to it.” Schaus says to avoid hard cheeses that need to be sliced by guests, since that is difficult to manage with a plate or wineglass in hand.
What Else Should Go On A Platter?
Schaus explains, “As far as accompaniments to the cheese, meats are always a nice idea, any kind of charcuterie, salami, or speck or prosciutto. If you just want to keep it to cheese, we always like to use different kinds of fruit, and in the wintertime there is not a lot of fresh fruit that is really great. So to keep it more seasonal you can use chutney or jam, or apple or pear butter is amazing. These cheeses go so beautifully with fruits. The sweetness compliments the creaminess or the sharpness of the cheese. Nuts are wonderful. Honey is another really wonderful thing to pair with even the stronger cheeses. Of course olives or any kind of pickled products are also great for cheese plates.”
Cheese and wine are a natural pairing, but Schaus claims this relationship is not as important during large holiday meals. “You don’t worry too much about pairing it with wines when you do it for an hors d’oeuvre or as an addition to a dinner because people will be drinking so many different things and there are so many flavors going on in the whole dinner that you just want the cheese to be a part of that.”
How To Arrange Your Platter
When we think of the various sweet and savory elements on a cheese platter, such as salami, olives, pears, or grapes, it’s hard to know where to put them. Do we make separate platters for sweet and savory? Schaus advises, “As a personal preference, if I’m doing it for a dinner, I will keep it all on one. And I will keep the pickled products or the olives with the more savory cheeses, and with the more nutty cheeses, that’s where I’ll put the fruit or the honey. We use a lot of dried fruit when we do our platters: dried cranberries and cherries and pears. They just have a really nice kind of concentrated sweetness that goes well with cheese.”
Did you know that cheese is seasonal? Winter is the best time for aged alpine cheeses. The cheesemongers at The Truffle Cheese Shop are happy to give you their expert insight on such matters. As Schaus says, “Every cheese has a story.” Think seasonal for accompaniments too. “This time of year apples are really beautiful, and there are so many flavor profiles with apples, from granny smiths that tend to be a little sour to honeycrips that are super sweet.”
Cheese For Dessert
Schaus says that Americans are beginning to embrace the European tradition of cheese for dessert. If you have never tried it before, now is the time. It might just change the way you think about dessert. “It’s really lovely. You don’t really need a lot of cheese. You are not really looking for quantity as much as quality with dessert because you’ve already had a big meal. It’s just to get a taste of it. And at that point I like to keep the accompaniments on the cheese platter a little on the sweet side. One to three cheeses. Again you can vary the milk types and vary the textures.”
Shaus says not to fret about the actual platter that you use to serve your cheese. A plain glass plate is simple and beautiful, but really the sky is the limit. “Just a piece of marble or wood or put a piece of wax paper on your grandmothers old silver set works well,” she says.
Day After Thanksgiving
One of the reasons a cheese platter works so well for the holiday table is its versatility for later meals. Whether you use your gouda on turkey and cranberry sandwiches or shred some parmesan into a frittata, the results are delicious. Schaus adds, “Cheese for breakfast is wonderful. For anything that is left over, just toss it into pasta or risotto.”
The Most Important Part
Schaus claims that the most essential element of the perfect platter is one that might surprise you. “The biggest thing with cheese is how you store it. Wax paper or foil–not plastic–because cheese is a living, breathing thing. In Colorado it tends to dry out. Wrap it in wax paper or foil then put it in a separate container in your fridge.” Schaus uses a glass container, but says that plastic also works. And if all else fails, you can use the meat or produce drawer in your refrigerator because they are higher in humidity.