Many times, the best way to end a meal is not with something sweet. And luckily, the European trend to serve cheese as dessert is catching on more and more everyday in this country. We see it in restaurants everywhere, but how can you create your own dessert course at home?
Read on for some of our favorite after dinner cheeses and the accompaniments we love to serve alongside.The best part about serving cheese for dessert is that it's fast and easy. Even if you would have time to make a quick dessert, a spread of dessert-friendly cheeses can be a welcome change.
Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
- Just about any fine cheese can be turned into a dessert course if you deem it worthy. Even stinky cheeses work well if you pair them with some sweeter elements.
- Choose cheeses that are lighter in body. Goat cheeses are great for this because they're actually lower in fat, and the fresh goats serve as great neutral foils for other flavors, so you can layer on whatever condiments you like without having to think too much about whether or not the flavors will match.
- Serve a maximum of three cheeses. Even if you're serving cheeses to a large crowd, limit the number of selections you offer. The goal is to highlight the cheeses, not overwhelm your guests.
- Choose two or three accompaniments. In the same vein as the point above, you don't want to bombard your friends (or their palates) with too many flavors or choices. The place for a larger cheese board with many accompanying elements is before dinner or at a party.
- We love serving dessert cheeses with intensely flavored dried fruits like figs, unsulfured apricots, and cherries, which work well with aged, harder cheeses like gruyere, appenzeller, Beaufort, and Comte. Fresh fruit choices are great with many fresh cheeses. Try fresh figs, fresh dates, apples, and stone fruits like apricots and plums. Stay away from citrus fruits.
- Nuts are great to serve on the plate. They often highlight the sweet and nutty qualities in cheese. Feel free to experiment but some safe standbys are largueta and marcona almonds, hazelnuts, and toasted pecans.
- Honey. Turns just about any cheese into dessert.
- Reduce one part balsamic vinegar and one part sugar for a syrupy drizzle-worthy topper on farmhouse cheddar, Parmigiano Reggiano, or gorgonzola.
- Cheeses that are literally sweet on their own-- mainly those caramelly cheeses of the super-aged gouda type-- can stand alone on a dessert plate. Or flavored cheeses like the white stilton with lemon we reviewed the other week.
- Serve dessert wines like Moscato d'Asti, tokai, late harvest gewurztraminer, or sauternes. Barley wines and other sweet beers like a Belgian style dubbel work well, too. Or a Pedro Ximenez sherry.
- Don't underestimate the power of BLUE. Sometimes nothing works better to close a meal than the stinging ring of a blue veined friend.
- Always serve your cheese at room temperature! Especially if you're serving cheese at the end of a meal, your taste buds will have been working in overdrive. You want every nuance of the cheese to shine, and if the flavorful fat molecules are too cold, the personality of the cheese will remain imperceptible.
- Serve a variety of milk types, styles, and ages. Doing so will showcase the versatility of cheese as a major player in the dessert realm.
Some of our favorite dessert cheeses that we've showcased here at The Kitchn:
- Monte Enebro: Serve with a fino sherry or syrupy sweet dessert wine.
- Reblochon: Try to find one from a good producer that's perfectly ripe. Slightly funky notes balanced with a sweet milky creaminess carries a certain heft that works well after a lighter meal. Serve on its own or with marcona almonds.
- Pleasant Ridge Reserve: A must. The cooked milk flavors found in mountain cheeses like Pleasant Ridge are perfect with nuts and honey.
- Brillat Savarin: An obvious choice, but for good reason. Triple cremes and bries are great for dessert because they manage to embody that difficult dichotomy of being both rich and light at the same time.
- Fresh ricotta: Perhaps the best vehicle for many of the jams, mostardas, membrillos, sweet chutneys, and fruit compotes out there. Serve with fruit and nut bread.
Related: Seasonal Spotlight: Figs
Related: Easy Spring Dessert: White Stilton with Lemon
Image: Flickr user Stuart Spivack licensed under Creative Commons