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Celebrate the Holidays with Cheese

Cheese plate

We’ve all heard about the meteoric rise of fine cheese in the American gastronomic conscience. Most menus incorporate a large amount of high-quality cheese—melted in to sauces or on burgers, stuffed in dough, or crumbled on salad—but not everyone has tried serving cheese as a course alone. The holiday season is a perfect time to introduce the idea of a cheese plate to your customers. People are in a celebratory mood and interested in the kind of soul-warming experience cheese can bring. There’s plenty of advice out there on how to compose a general cheese plate year-round, but here are a few ideas on how to compose a cheese plate that will add sparkle to a holiday dinner, introduce people to stand-alone cheeses, and increase holiday sales.

Classic Plates

The holidays are a perfect time to create a cheese plate, as the vast majority of cheeses are in season. Simple pressed cheeses are coming into their own: moderately aged cheeses such as Tomme de Savoie, moderately aged pecorinos, and hard Spanish sheep and goat cheeses. These cheeses have the advantage of being both flavorful and accessible to a wide variety of palates. It’s also an excellent time for alpine cheeses such as Gruyère, Comté, or Pleasant Ridge Reserve. These are tasty year-round, but their nutty, fruity, and slightly funky flavors are especially appropriate when the weather turns cold. Another cheese family to consider for the holiday cheese plate is blue. Crumbly, earthy, creamy, and slightly pungent Stilton is a Christmas Eve classic—but also an elegant way to end any meal.

Less Is Best

When you offer cheese as part of your holiday menus, focus on a well-crafted plate rather than a bombardment. Instead of five cheeses with a special condiment for each, think about serving one cheese with two well-chosen and plated accompaniments. For example, in the spirit of the classic, choose a blue, either Stilton or a local artisan offering, and plate it with some cherry compote, caramelized walnuts, and bread. Whatever kind of cheese you choose can be both enhanced and upsold with a carefully selected pairing of wine, beer, or even spirits offered at a special price if ordered with the plate. For example, try Port with the Stilton, or for those who want to think outside the box, try a chocolate stout, such as Brooklyn Brewery’s, or a single-malt Scotch, such as the Dalmore Cigar Malt.

Unusual Places

As long as we’re breaking the mold, introduce cheese as a part of the dining experience by including it for customers in surprising places and without depending on their order. Use a cheese plate as a way to add a course that involves minimal prep and plating time to a prix fixe. Repeat customers will be more keen to order cheese in the future once exposed to the pleasure of an after-dinner cheese plate. Also, try serving a small portion of cheese (1 ounce or less) on a crostini with a ½ ounce of paired beverage as an amuse-bouche, or offer the same as a small complement after the main course is cleared. Diners will appreciate the sparkle this adds to a meal, as well as the memorable taste of a well-crafted pair—all of which will help with repeat business and future cheese sales.

Hopefully, these ideas will help you get started on your own thoughts of ways to put together a plate this holiday season. Remember to find a competent and capable cheese supplier to help you develop your ideas and ensure that you and your staff are able to handle the finer points of the cheese. A competent cheesemonger will also be able to help you choose a cheese that fits your budget and style, as well as offer pairing advice. If your supplier options are limited, establish a relationship with a local artisan producer. Good luck, and good cheese!

 

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