How to Buy Cheese Like a Pro

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By: Sara Hill, Manager of Cheese Education, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board CH630BELLAVITANOX1008

I’m often asked how someone can become a cheese connoisseur. People want to impress their guests with great cheese, expand their palates or learn the interesting history and stories of our beloved cheesemakers in Wisconsin. Through the years, I’ve seen novice cheese eaters become successful entertainers and even self-made cheese pros. Their secrets lie in the way they use local resources, understand great pairings and dare to try new cheeses. I’m excited to reveal them here to help you find the cheese connoisseur in you.

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Buy from a knowledgeable source. Seek out your local cheesemongers. Buying cheese from a local shop or a cheese counter at your grocer is important. Cheesemongers care for their cheese, and your selections will be cut right from the wheel so you know you’re always buying the best. You also become more knowledgeable about cheese and ensure you select the best because you can try the cheeses before you buy them.  The cheesemonger will tell you information and romance about the cheeses, too, so you’ll be able to impress guests with your cheese expertise.

Always have enough cheese. It’s simple, but crucial. When you’re entertaining, think about the number of people you are going to have and what other foods you will be serving. You’ll want to buy about 3 ounces of cheese per person. On a cheese board, choose about 4-5 varieties and plan amounts of each according to your guest count. For the perfect presentation, you also want to have a full piece of cheese on your board that shows people what it looks like, so I double the amount needed for a cheese board. It will make a better presentation, and you’ll have leftovers. However, don’t buy more than what you can eat in a week.

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Create a theme. When entertaining with a cheese board, consider what kind of beverages you will serve and if there’s a theme to your party or get together. One of my favorite things to do is Italian antipasti. It’s beautiful. Pair Italian-style cheeses with charcuterie, salami, tapenades, olives, pickled vegetables, breads and more. The best part is that when you go to a full service cheese department, you’ll be able to pick up all you’ll need for the spread. There’s so much available for this theme and it’s so easy – food can really be the centerpiece of your meal. If you have a theme, carry it out with your beverages, as well, such as Italian wines with Italian-style cheeses or Wisconsin craft beer paired with an array of Wisconsin cheeses.

Another pro tip – With any theme, I love to have small labels next to my cheese board selections so guests know what they are eating!

Think about your pairings. Sometimes the best kept entertaining secret is knowing how to complement your cheese. Read about what accompaniments or beverages pair well with different cheeses. You can pair many with dried fruits and nuts, which add color, texture and deep flavors that go so well with cheese. Or, give it a homemade touch and toast walnuts with olive oil and sea salt, or cashews with rosemary and olive oil and sea salt. They are beautiful and pair perfectly with a bite of cheese. Use crispy and light crackers, not flavored, so that the flavor of the cheese really comes through. However, bolder flavored cheeses, like blue, are wonderful with fruit and nut breads or crackers.

Keep a cheese diary. To become an expert, keep track of the cheeses you love. Keep a cheese diary or take photos of cheeses in restaurants or shops. If you do that for 5-10 years, you’ll end up being a cheese pro. There are also so many wonderful websites and books to learn about cheese, such as EatWisconsinCheese.com and Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials. It’s about making it a hobby and learning about new cheeses when you can. This will also force you to try new cheeses and expand your palette – making you the connoisseur you strive to be!

For more Wisconsin cheese entertaining tips and pairing ideas, visit EatWisconsinCheese.com.

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