My appreciation for artisan cheese developed while living in the Netherlands as a grad student. Saturday mornings usually included a visit to the local cheese vendor at the Leiden farmers market, which nearly always ended with way more cheese than I could consume in a week.
The Netherlands, home of the windmills, tulips and those ‘special’ coffee shops, is world renowned for its cheese. According to www.Holland.com, the Dutch produce a whopping 1.4billion pounds (650 million kilos) of cheese every year and rank among the top five cheese producing (and cheese loving!) nations in the world. In fact, on average the Dutch eat 31.5 pounds (14.3 kilos) of cheese per person per year.
Having invited a few friends for a spontaneous get-together one summer evening, I had an opportunity to showcase some cheeses I bought earlier that day. My display included firmer cheeses like Gouda and Edam, deliciously displayed alongside Maasdammer, the legendary large holed cheese, and of course a hearty portion of the original Leidse cumin cheese known for its piquant and somewhat tart flavor. A hodgepodge of snacks and mix of drinks completed our table arrangement. That night I discovered what NOT to pair with cheese.
- Fruits like watermelon, mango and papaya taste delicious on their own, or as part of a fruit medley, but not with with cheese. The texture and high sugar content of these fruits often subdue rather than compliment the flavor of cheese, defeating the purpose of a cheese plate.
- Spicy peppers, even when stuffed with cheese, are not a perfect pairing. Most cheeses are overpowered by the bold flavors of spicy foods including pickled veggies and certain cured meats. Bite-sized sandwiches are a better option if you’re set on mixing and matching flavors.
- Flavored crackers and garlic toasts will not make your cheese smile. To bring out the flavor of semi-hard and goat cheese varieties keep it simple with plain water crackers or thinly sliced baguette.
- Vodka and gin -tonics are just not meant to be consumed with cheese. Unless you’re planning to shake up cocktails, spring for traditional wine or beer pairings when planning a cheese reception.
For a unique twist on the traditional favorites, try adding a few smoke-cured cheese varieties to your next display. Some of my favorites are smoked Gruyere, Provolone, Gouda or the Georgian Suluguni cheese.