Holiday Feature


The Art of Serving Cheese

taleggio cheese

Photo: Taleggio—Italy; sophisticated and meaty

Always serve cheese at room temperature, not cold from the refrigerator. In order to ensure the emergence of its full flavor, always take the cheese out of the refrigerator early enough for it to come to room temperature. Depending on the hardness of the cheese, this could take about an hour in cool weather, or in hot weather, as little as 30 minutes. Hard cheeses take longer to come to room temperature than soft ones. When you take it out, leave the cheese wrapped so that the exposed surfaces don't dry out. Just before you're ready to serve the cheese, unwrap it and throw the wrapping away. Never use the same wrapping twice—it won't reseal properly.

For serving, I like to present each cheese on a small wooden cutting board, piece of marble, or plate, rather than forcing two, three, or four cheeses to share one big platter. If you put them all together, soft cheeses may run into each other; also, the aromas intermingle and it's hard to differentiate between them. What's more, big plates often aren't completely flat, and cheese must lie flat in order to be easily cut. That's why I prefer flat, sturdy, individual cutting boards rather than plates, which tend to be tippy. If you don't have small cutting boards or marble slabs, then use a big cutting board and keep the cheeses as far away from each other as possible.

It's best—although I confess to occasionally breaking this rule—to have a separate knife for each cheese. The radical me suggests you gather up all the specialized cheese tools you have in the house and throw them away. Those ridiculous Scandinavian cheese planes --toss them out. They are as injurious to cheese, and just as insulting, as the Stilton "scoop" tool. How on earth can you rewrap the concave husk that remains? Cheese planes, while seemingly novel in design and a cinch to use, are in reality wasteful (they create great valleys in the cheese's face) and in many cases flimsy and/or shoddy in manufacture. However, they can be useful at a retail cheese counter for trimming away dryness and/or discoloration. The other cutesy cheese tools with decorative handles and the like are not so good either. They are invariably flimsy and dangerously dull.

To cut any cheese properly—hard or soft —use a good chef's knife (a good all-purpose utility knife). To cut soft, fresh cheese such as chevre cleanly, use a length of tautly stretched dental floss.


Steven Jenkins' Cheese Primer


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This page created 1998 and modified September 2007.