By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
No matter what type of tasting party you have in mind, there are always guidelines to help you better savor your star ingredient.
Whether it be a wine-sipping soiree, a chocolate-savoring extravaganza or a casual sampling of homemade jams, presenting your food or drink in just the right order and context is the key to culinary success.
The same holds true for cheeses, and with more than 1,800 different international varieties of this dairy delicacy to choose from, knowing which ones to serve first and which ones to serve last can be a bit daunting for even the most seasoned foodie.
Fortunately, the Europe-based gastronomy promotion board La Maison de Europa recently organized a From Europe with Amour fromage-tasting master class inside a real cheese cellar and led by renowned French cheesemonger Olivier Bert, who offered a foolproof enchiridion on how to prepare a proper cheese board, obviously using the best of cheeses from L´Hexagone itself.
“There are so many different cheeses to choose from, it is hard to know where to start,” Bert said. “But as a rule, your best option is to follow a strategic progression, beginning with the mildest of flavors and then moving on to the strongest, most pungent cheeses.”
Just like in a wine tasting, he said, where it is usually advised to start with a light, fruity white and work your way up to a more full-bodied and textured red, the idea is to begin with less domineering flavors to open the palate.
“If you start with a cheese with an overpowering flavor, you will not be able to fully appreciate the epicurean subtleties of a mild cheese afterwards,” Bert explained.
That said, Bert that embarked on a more detailed vade mecum of how to organize the perfect cheese-tasting fest.
“Crafting a cheese board is an art. It requires thought and consideration. The right choice of cheeses and their presentation can dramatically increase the pleasure of your tasting experience,” he said.
“Always try to include a variety of flavors and textures, and bear in mind that not everyone is going to like every cheese presented.”
For the faint of palate, Bert said that sticking to cow milk cheeses is a good rule of thumb.
“Goat and sheep cheeses tend to be much more earthy and heady, and often are an acquired taste,” he said.
“If you are going to include one of these, add it to the end of the presentation and recognize that not all your guests are going to be delighted by that particular cheese.”
Bert also recommended that you stick to one country per tasting, and don’t try to include too many varieties.
“Obviously, it is a matter of personal taste, but I would suggest that you present no more than four or five cheeses during a tasting,” he said.< For his master class sample tasting, Bert presented three French cheeses, a semi-hard and fruity-tasting comté, a luxuriously luscious camembert with hints of nuts and musk, and a hardy, sharply acidic bleu d'Auvergne, in that order.< Bert also stressed the importance of accompaniments. "You can enhance the flavors of a cheese by serving it with a variety of accoutrements," he said. "Always try to include at least one thing that is sweet and one that is savory," he said. For the master class, there was an array of sweet honey, strawberry marmalades and fresh fruits, as well as caramelized onions and chutneys, plus a selection of baguettes and crackers, as well as nuts.
And as for what to drink?
Well, French cheeses go great with French wines, but Bert also said that they can be served with beer or even fruity drinks, depending on personal taste.
The From Europe with Amour master class also included a brief cooking seminar by acclaimed Jaliscan chef Francisco Ruano of Guadalajara’s Alcalde restaurant on the versatility of French cheese for cooking, using a tangy blue cheese to spice up a beat and kale salad, and a who’s-counting-calories sampling of traditional French pastries, all made from French butter and creams by chef Sofía Cortina of Hotel Carlota.
La Maison de Europa is part of the From Europe with Amour campaign, which is aimed at promoting dairy products from European Union countries.