To create a unique centerpiece that doubles as an appetizer, try carving a block of California Cheddar or Monterey Jack in a shape that highlights your party theme.
Your design can be as detailed as you like either simple or intricate shapes are sure to impress. Consider fun designs like a football for a tailgate party, a jack-o-lantern for Halloween, or simple leaves or pine cones for the holidays.
To get started, you'll need to purchase carving tools at a craft and hobby or cookware shop. Look for a hand slicer or plane, a butter curler, a good paring knife and clay sculpting tools. Pick up a pair of food service gloves as well, for sanitary cheese handling. Make sure work areas and tools are clean.
Then sketch your design from several different angles before starting. Your block of cheese should be cold for carving—between 40 degrees and 70 degrees. If the cheese starts to "sweat" after you've been at work, place it back in the refrigerator to regain its cooler temperature.
Surround your sculpture with crackers, or fill the center opening with dip and serve with crisp vegetables. No matter what shape you create, your guests will eat it up!
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Toss together cheese, flour, mustard and cayenne. Mix in butter. Work mixture with your hands to form a dough. Add a tablespoon of water if dough feels dry. On a floured surface, roll-out half the dough to a thickness between 1/8- and 1/4-inch. Cut out with star, heart or leaf-shaped cookie cutters. Place on ungreased baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough. Bake 10 to 12 minutes until lightly browned on the bottom. Remove to a rack to cool.
Makes about 3 dozen.
Variations: Add 2 tablespoons minced sun-dried tomatoes and 1 tablespoon minced garlic to dough.
Wrapped Bites: Mold dough around 36 small pimento-stuffed olives or chunks of cooked sausage.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 12 minutes
Cook potatoes in boiling water or microwave on High (100 percent power) until tender. Cool to room temperature. Heat over to 375 degrees F. Slice potatoes in half. With a small melon baller or the tip of a spoon, scoop out a slight indentation from the center of each half. Cut a small slice off the bottom of potatoes so they'll stand upright on a baking sheet. Place potatoes on baking sheets. Season surface with salt and pepper. Place a small dab of mustard or Pesto in indent; top with cheese cube. Heat 15 to 20 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and browned in spots. Serve warm.
Makes 32 potatoes or 16 servings.
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Provided by California Milk Advisory Board
Swiss cheese photograph provided by Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board
This page originally published as a FoodDay article in 1997.
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This page modified January 2007
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