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Cheese 101 – Accompanied

Just as I was about to snack on cheese straight up, Cheese Girl returned to give us a quick lesson in cheese condiments…

With the rapidly increasing popularity of all things cheese, it can be difficult to sort through the maze of accompaniments out there. So here are some words to shop by:

Bread is a no-brainer – a fresh French baguette is my first choice.  Bread should always play the supporting role, so festive breads, over-laden with dried fruits and nuts, are distracting (let’s reserve those for butter).  Dense breads (can we stop at 12 grains please) tend to fill you up too quickly and we need to maximize room for cheese.

Crackers are controversial. My business partner Waldemar has sworn off them entirely, deeming them “unnecessary”.  Me, I like my crackers plain and dry (like Italian baked flatbread crackers), so as not to interfere with the cheese experience.  Exceptions would be black pepper crackers (great with cheddar), and wine crackers, which are great with pretty much anything.

Cheese condiments span the map – everything from honey and fruit preserves, to nuts and fruitcakes. One fruit preserve expressly made for cheese is Spanish membrillo (quince paste). If you’re nervous about entering the world of condiments, I would start there. A basic rule of thumb is to balance the sweetness of the preserve with the saltiness of the cheese.  Nuts (marcona almonds are my favorite) and fruits (check out my cheesaholic’s picks) are an easy way to make your cheese plate look more appetizing, and can practically turn a cheese plate into a meal.

A few rules I play by:

•    Keep it simple. When you start to pile on too many flavors at once, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with a lot of yucks. So if you’re fond of the contrast of honey with Roquefort, leave the jasmine-chili-verbena-infused honey on the shelf and stick to the basics.
•    Go regional. If you’re serving Spanish cheeses, look for Spanish condiments. There’s a good chance people have been enjoying them together for centuries (even before supermarket shelves started looking like world food fairs).
•    Support the artisan. Many smaller artisan condiment and cracker makers have artisan cheeses in mind for their products. They look and taste more rustic, and usually match the cheeses in depth of flavor.

My go-to pairing is cheese & honey, my top choice – Savannah Bee Company Honeycomb ($14.99 for 16 oz, available online at Savannah Bee). Think solid honey that magically dissolves on your tongue. It makes a gorgeous presentation and pairs fabulously with pretty much any aged blue cheese.

Most specialty and gourmet food shops will have great cheese accompaniments (try Whole Foods and Citarella), but if you don’t have one nearby, I would check online at Artisanal or Murray’s Cheese.

Stay tuned for Cheese Girl’s next lesson in starter cheese & wine pairings…

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