We could spend practically the same amount of time talking about the things to serve with cheese as we could about the actual cheese. This year, why not draw inspiration from your favorite cheese shop's grocery shelves and make some cheese accompaniments yourself? It's not hard to duplicate some of the best items to eat alongside a hunk of cheese, and the best part is that they're all homemade and very giftable...
If you want to gift these items, find appropriate packaging: either use a simple mason or ball jar, or even a jam jar that you've saved. Clear cellophane bags for work well for the non-liquid items. Add a pretty ribbon and you're set!
Infused Honey: We can't get enough honey with our cheese. It's good with all styles, from fresh to blue. Infusing honey is just about as simple as it gets. Transfer a mild- to medium-flavored honey into a jar and stick a few sprigs of thyme, lavender, or rosemary into it. It won't take long for the herbs to lend their dynamic aromas and flavors to the honey, and it's very pretty, too. We've seen several varieties of herbed honeys in jars with nuts, which you can do, too. Just add as many as you'd like to the jar. Try toasted marcona almonds.
Spiced Nuts: And speaking of nuts, try making some spiced ones. They're especially great with mountain cheeses like Gruyere and Comte, or mild washed rind cheeses like a nice Fontina or Tete de Moine. Beat one egg white until soft and foamy for every 2-3 cups of nuts. For a sweet and spicy nut, try adding about 1/4 cup of sugar and a sprinkling of salt, cumin, cayenne, and allspice to the egg white. For something sweeter, stick to all sugar (about 3/4 cup), a pinch of salt, and some cinnamon. Toss the nuts in the egg white mixture and bake at 325 until they're completely dry, about 10-15 minutes. Great options are walnuts and pecans, but you can try pepitas, cashews, or peanuts, too. Or try this recipe for Sweet and Salty Almonds, another great option.
Balsamic Vinegar Syrup: It's one of our favorite things to serve alongside some Parmigiano Reggiano... the two together make a meal. Combine 3 parts balsamic to 2 parts sugar plus a pinch of salt and reduce over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and the mixture becomes slightly thick and syrupy. You won't believe how the combination of acid and sugar can amp up your cheese. Time commitment: about 5 minutes.
Frico: Some cheese with your cheese? They're a bit tricky to transport because they're so crispy, but they make a great hostess gift if you can find appropriate packaging. Grate Piave or Montasio cheese (or Parmigiano Reggiano in a pinch) and mix with a sprinkling of flour and a pinch of cayenne. Drop onto a nonstick baking mat in tablespoons. Bake at 375 until melted and crisp, about 15 minutes. Let cool on racks. Best for those of us who want a cracker in cheese form.
Jams and Chutneys: There's no reason you can't make these yourself, and we guarantee your versions will rival anything store-bought. Try this Martha Stewart recipe for fig chutney, this Gourmet recipe for concord grape jam, the Kitchn's recipe for Tomato Chutney, or an adaptation of Madhur Jaffrey's Green Mango Chutney, like the one pictured at the top of this post.
Marinated Olives: Make your own mix of olives and combine with lemon pieces, finger chilis, cumin seed, cayenne, a bay leaf, and a cinnamon stick for an aromatic, Tunisian blend, or use some of your favorite fresh herbs and olive oil for something a bit more simple. Olives are great with cheddars and fresh cheeses.
A wedge of cheese alongside any of these gifts is optional!
• The Cheesemonger: How to Eat Cheese
(Image: Flickr user chotda, licensed under Creative Commons)