cheese—if it's tasty to begin with—can stand alone as dessert. But how do you distinguish a cheese that's meant
for dessert from one that's better suited as an appetizer? Surprisingly, all cheese has the versatility to go from pre- to post-dinner. With these few pointers, learn how to make any
cheese look downright dessert-y. These tips will come in handy if you need something sweet to serve in a pinch, but they're also great considerations to make when turning any cheese into a dessert course. The idea is to offset the savory quality of cheese by introducing something sweet, with an aim to create compelling pairings by matching the saltiness in cheese with the sugary quality of something else.
Try matching any cheese with one of the following:
It's pretty easy to hit that harmonious, salty-sweet sweet spot with something as overtly sugary as a syrupy dessert wine. The best dessert wines for cheese have a bit of acidity to them, like white ones such as Sauternes and Tokaji, or even a Riesling, if it's sweet enough. The acidity in these whites provides the backbone to offset the fattiness of cheese. Port and Madeira are also classic, and though they're lower in acid, there's something about their rich, nearly jammy flavors that match with everything from a sharp cheddar to a stinky cheese like epoisses. The safest bet is to choose a fairly aggressively-flavored cheese that can stand up to even the most cloying of dessert wines.
The best cheeses for dessert wine: Cheddar, Gruyere, Munster, Fontina, Epoisses.
Fruit has always made a natural pairing for cheese. Equally great is fresh fruit (a beautiful bunch of grapes, slices of pear or apple, or wedges of stone fruit) or dried fruit (dried cherries, golden raisins, or dates). Texturally, serving fruit offers a palate cleanser from the fatty heft of cheese. A beautiful display of fruit around a wedge of cheese is probably the quickest way to tell your guests that it's time for dessert.
The best cheeses for fruit: Aged Gouda, Mimolette, fresh and lightly-aged Goat Cheeses, and sharp aged Pecorinos, like Pecorino Ginepro and Pecorino Foglie Di Noce.
Jam and marmalades work alongside cheese, too, as does membrillo. But honey is the best. There's not one cheese that honey doesn't bring to a sweeter, more compelling place. Even the stinkiest cheese mellows with a drizzle of honey, giving credence to the concept that opposites attract. Has anyone ever tried a cheese that doesn't match well with honey?
The best cheeses for honey: Strong blues like Roquefort and Cabrales, mountain cheese like Comte and Emmenthaler, mild washed rind cheeses like Taleggio and Petite Basque.
Be a believer. Chocolate, whether it's an aggressively strong bittersweet chocolate or a rich, creamy milk chocolate, heightens the experience of cheese. It's an automatic dessert-maker. Pair semi- and bittersweet chocolates with creamier cheeses, and milk chocolate with hard cheeses. Again, you're trying to find harmony in the contrast between two elements.
The best cheeses for chocolate: Pair triple creme cheeses like Brillat Savarin, Pierre Robert, Cowgirl Creamery's Mt. Tam, or Saint Andre with semi- and bittersweet chocolates; pair milk chocolate with robust aged cheeses like Mimolette, Rembrandt Aged Gouda, and Parmigiano Reggiano.
Wholemeal and Sweet Crackers
Just say no to baguette. You'll be surprised at how quickly sweetness emerges from cheese when smeared onto something sweet. English-style crackers made with whole wheat flour are nearly shortbread-like, striking a magical balance between the sweet and savory that sends your cheeses soaring into a dessert realm. More brands of crackers are emerging in this category, and you'll find them in the specialty or cheese section of your grocery store. Many are made with molasses or brown sugar, and some are studded with nuts. The classic Carr's wholewheat crackers are great, as are wholewheat crackers made by The Fine Cheese Company or oatcakes by Effie's.
The best cheeses for wholemeal and sweet crackers: Fresh cheeses like Burrata or Ricotta, Garrotxa, natural rinded cheeses like st. Nectaire or Tomme Crayeuse, and English-style farmhouse cheddars.
Never underestimate the power of cheese for dessert. It's an elegant way to end a meal, and even better for dessert-skippers. Or, of course, cheese fans.
Nora Singley used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
Related: The Cheesemonger: The Dessert Course
(Images: Larina Natalia/Shutterstock)