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How to Serve Cheese

Planning the cheese course for your next dinner party? We turned to the experts at Artisanal Premium Cheese to weigh in on the best strategies for serving and enjoying fromage in all its forms.

Q: When should I serve cheese?
A: Cheese can be served before or after dinner, or as the main feature of a wine and cheese party. Just be sure to remove cheese from refrigeration two hours before you plan to serve it. This releases the greatest flavors and allows for the texture to soften. When serving, use a different knife or spoon for each cheese. Traditional accompaniments include dried fruits, preserves, unsalted nuts, simple crackers and crusty bread.

Q: How much cheese should I serve?
A: That depends on when you're planning to serve it.

  • For the traditional French cheese course served after dinner but before a sweet dessert, Artisanal recommends three to four different cheeses. Allow a 1-oz. portion of each cheese for each guest.
  • For an appetizer course, select three to five cheeses with a ½-oz. portion of each variety for each guest.
  • If you are serving cheese and wine only, choose four to eight different cheeses with a 1-oz. portion of each variety for each guest.

By using the Artisanal CheeseClock, you can easily select a compatible range of cheeses and wines to create a beautiful and delicious flight of cheeses for any course.

Q: What is affinage?
A: Affinage (pronounced AH-fee-nahj) is the centuries-old craft of maturing cheese to peak ripeness. Each product at Artisanal Premium Cheese is tended by hand, carefully turned, washed, brushed and monitored in temperature and humidity-controlled cheese caves.

Q: Why do I need to know about affinage?
A: As you'd imagine, affinage has a big impact on a cheese's flavor. A very young goat cheese (pre-affinage) is creamy, tangy and soft, and is best paired with a light white wine or a sparkling wine like etoile Rosé. After careful aging, the same cheese becomes denser and nuttier in flavor, making it a better partner for a stronger wine like Domaine Chandon Carneros Chardonnay.

Q: Can I eat the rind?
A: Try it! If you like the taste and mouth-feel, that means more cheese for you. If not, there's no harm done. Many rinds are composed entirely of cheese. Take Parmigiano-Reggiano, which sports a rock-hard shell reminiscent of plastic. In reality, this shell is dried, salted, compressed curd — i.e., cheese! Similarly, the orange film that envelops Epoisses is made of cheese spiked with the beneficial bacteria that creates flavor.

Q: How do I store cheese?
A: At Artisanal, cheeses are stored in a cheese cave, which allows for the ultimate in temperature and humidity control. At home, your best bet for maintaining a cheese's ideal texture and flavor is to store it in a wine refrigerator or the vegetable drawer of your kitchen refrigerator.

Always use the original cheese paper to rewrap your leftovers, as this allows the cheese to breathe. If the original paper is no longer available, you can also use loosely wrapped parchment paper.

Leftover cheeses make for a great snack, and can always be used as an ingredient in quiches, pizzas, potatoes au gratin and more.