Experimenting with cheese
Gone are the low-fat obsessed '90s. The '00s are shaping up to be a decade in which anything goes -- in moderation, of course. Which brings us to the return of cheese. The new-again cheese course has become a dinner-party essential, and in upscale restaurants, cheese “sommeliers” are becoming a familiar sight.
High-fat or low-fat, oozing or solid, mild or ripe, there's a cheese for everyone. But with hundreds of varieties from around the world to choose from, making picks can be tricky. So we're enrolling you in Style at Home's ultimate cheese course -- read up and learn more about several cheeses sure to please.
After dinner trend
When it comes to entertaining, the hottest trend is forgoing dessert in favour of cheese. Hazel Ecclestone, co-owner of La Fromagerie, a Toronto cheese boutique, says one of the best ways to enjoy cheese is at the end of a meal: “You've already eaten, so you're less likely to overindulge.“ Here are some of Hazel's suggestions for presenting a stellar cheese platter.
When buying, the rule of thumb is 50 to 100 grams of cheese per person. Stop yourself from buying too much, because although you can keep the extra, most cheese is best within the first few days in home-refrigerator conditions.
Mix & match
Always have three or more cheeses. Include goat's, sheep's and cow's milk cheeses, and offer a range of styles from soft, hard, blue and strong. Hazel's standby cheese plate includes a chèvre, Camembert and Roquefort. Start with the most delicate and work your way up to the more pungent options.
Pick a country or region and choose a number of cheeses from that area. For example, Quebec has so many fabulous artisanal ones that a platter of new varieties will be très délicieux for wine.
Looking for a way to theme your next cheese plate? Think patriotic. Did you know that some of the world's best cheeses are being produced right here in Canada? Here are four you absolutely have to try this year.
Balderson 5 Year Old Heritage Cheddar It has a heightened flavour and a crumbly texture, and is great in sandwiches or on its own, drizzled with thyme -- or lavender-infused honey. Visit baldersoncheese.com.
Carmelis Farms Goatgonzola
This Okanagan Valley artisanal cheese is a semihard blue cheese, with a beautifully creamy but gently sharp flavour. It's crafted from whole goat's milk and contains no preservatives or stabilizers. See carmelisgoatcheese.com.
Fromagerie Lehmann's Kenogami Made in Quebec by an artisanal cheese maker, this soft cheese is made from raw cow's milk and is hugely popular because of its lovely notes of cream and hazelnut. Visit fromageduquebec.qc.ca.
Monforte's Pepato Fresco
This Ontario-based cheesemakers' fresh pecorino is similar to an Italian bocconcini. Made from sheep's milk, it's smooth and smothered in crushed peppercorns. Visit monfortedairy.com.
Enjoy fine cheeses at their prime, with these simple guidelines for getting the most out of your fromage – from the store to your dining table.
Nibble before buying
Not a problem if you go to a better-quality food shop or supermarket. The last thing you want is to get home and be startled by an overpowering flavour.
Store cheese properly
Its main enemies are excessive heat and air. Keep cheese tightly wrapped in its original packaging, waxed paper or foil, in a cool, slightly humid place, like the warmer areas of your fridge (check the manufacturer's instruction manual for advice).
Serve it professionally
Take your cheese out of the fridge at least an hour before serving; the flavour really comes alive at room temperature. And when serving, use a separate knife for each cheese so the flavours don't mix. Don't cut cheese in advance – it will dry out.
Cook with cheese
Almost any cheese can be incorporated into cooking. For melting, Cheddar, mozzarella and Swiss are the most popular, although Gorgonzola works well, too. Goat cheeses are great when heated under the broiler, and soft cheeses like ricotta and cream cheese can be paired with herbs and stuffed into meat and vegetables for fantastic results.