Last weekend, I went to a wedding with the most stunning display of cheese. And no wonder. The couple met when they were both working at a cheese shop.
If you're serving cheese to a party of over 100, you're bound to have a serious amount of cheese on your hands. How many types to serve, how to cut, how best to display, and how to get the most out of each wheel are all big cheese questions. Especially if you're serving it on your big day.
You can learn a lot from these pro friends of mine. They care a lot about cheese, especially because it played such an important part of their coupling up. And so they wanted to serve it right.
1. Bring the cheese to room temperature.
All of the cheese was out of the fridge by 10 in the morning. We didn't eat the cheese until 3. Room temperature cheese? Absolutely key. Take a look at just how gooey this bloomy rind cheese became.
2. Ask for help picking cheeses that are at their best right now.
The couple also had their wheels hand-picked for them from the caves at Jasper Hill Farm. As a result, there was some serious buzz going around about the perfect ripeness of each selection. Perhaps you're not friends with cheesemakers, as they are, but that doesn't mean you can't get an inside scoop from your cheesemonger about what's best right now. You're sure to get special help if you're ordering a lot of cheese. Take advantage of this advantage and try to get the skinny on what's at its peak.
3. Serve cheese based on its type.
They served each cheese based on its type. That is, they let the style of cheese dictate how it was to be cut.
The blue cheese was firm enough to be cut into neat wedges. Notice how they left large portions uncut to let guests get a sense of the whole wheel.
The cheddar could have been sliced, too, but for contrast, they chose to break it into bite-sized morsels. This lends a more rustic feel, and is a nice way to serve hard cheeses like goudas, parmesans, and cheddars. Letting the cheese break along its natural fault lines makes for more interesting texture in each bite. They also left some gorgeous wedges whole to give some context to the smaller pieces.
Their bloomy rinded soft cheese selection was left totally uncut. It's nice when cheeses are small enough to be left totally whole. There's something about an entire wheel of cheese that is really beautiful and grand. And it offered great contrast to the larger-format cheeses.
And one cheese was a gooey, cut-the-top-off-and-dip kind of cheese. What a great selection to throw in the mix, for its totally different way of eating. These are great cheeses for crowds, and they're impressive because you see the wheels whole, as well. When serving cheese to a huge crowd, you have the unique advantage of displaying cheese in its larger formats, as opposed to when you have a smaller quantity of cheese.
4. Have variety and complementing snacks.
In all, they served four different cheeses: a blue (Bayley Hazen Blue), a cheddar (Cabot Clothbound), a bloomy (Moses Sleeper), and a spruce-wrapped bloomy (Harbison). Each had totally different textures, flavors, and appearances, which is key to keep in mind. They were all accompanied by a simple selection of dried fruits and nuts, and bread, flat crisps, and dried fruit and seeded crackers on the side.
5. Arrange cheeses for easy access during party flow.
The display was on an oversized cheese board, and their selections were easily reached from every side of the display. Think about how guests might be in conversation but will still want to sample from other parts of your cheese spread. They made various piles of the cheeses on every part of the board, making it pretty easy not to get into any one cheese rut.
All cheeses were made from cow milk, which is something I'd typically advise against, just to offer some contrast in milk type. But each cheese was different and unique, and they all came from the same farm, which was definitely cool. Even the cheesemaker was there, and I overheard him after he popped a wedge of blue into his mouth. "Yep, pretty good," he said. I agreed.
Nora Singley used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop. Until recently she was a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show. She is currently a freelance food stylist and private chef in New York City.
(Images: Nora Singley)