Catering & Event Planning: The Anatomy of a Cheese Course

Cheese

Cheese and entertaining go hand and hand.  Go to a cocktail party at a friend’s home, and you’ll usually find a beautiful cheese and cracker display.  Visit a local restaurant, chances are there is a rustic charcuterie and cheese board on the appetizer list.  Cheese is versatile, there are countless varieties with varying textures and tastes.  And everyone loves cheese!  A thoughtfully-curated cheese spread is a simple, and modern way to wow guests at a catering event.  But what do you choose?  What goes with what?  How should it be displayed?  Put our more than 48 years of catering experience to work, and follow our tips!

Mix it Up

The number of cheeses to choose from can be overwhelming.  Start by categorizing cheeses by certain qualities to create a good mix.  Instead of sticking to just one type of cheese, mix it up to incorporate variety.

  • Milk: goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, or cow’s milk.
  • Texture: aged, soft, firm or blue.
  • Smell: mild to pungent.

The main rule of thumb when choosing cheeses is to serve at least one familiar cheese.  When you are catering to many guests with different palettes and levels of adventurism, it’s best to have at least one safe option.

Cheese

Interactive Tasting

Make cheese one of the focal points of your catering event by hosting an interactive tasting.  Offer guests diverse samples of one type of cheese, and have an expert on hand to talk about the differences.  Guests leave with some education on certain cheeses and what differentiates each.

Wine and Cheese Paring

Wine and cheese go together like…..well, like peanut butter and chocolate; like bacon and eggs; like burgers and fries; like beans and rice…you get the idea.  Pair each cheese with a complementary wine.  You can have fun with this by incorporating ports, reds, whites and even sparkling.  Consider matching wine and cheeses together based on region.  For example, feature French wines and cheeses for a Parisian feel.

Wine

Add Some Sustenance

Do you know what pairs well with wine and cheese?  Crackers!  Toasted breads!  Cured meats!  Fresh fruit!  Dried fruit!  Nuts!  Even condiments!  Add a splash of color to your cheese display with pears, pomegranate seeds, kumquats, plums, strawberries and grapes.  Sprinkle in some dried fruit such as figs, dates, tart cherries and apricots for a rustic feel.  And nuts can help give your cheese course a sweet or savory feel.  If the course is served as a first course, use regular nuts.  If it’s served as a dessert course, include candied nuts.  Then there’s meats!  The list is endless as to the premium cured meats that can accompany  on your catering menu!  Slice meats very thinly, and when rolling them don’t do so too tightly to give a nice light airy feel.

Don’t forget the Spreads!

The best cheese displays can be taken up a notch with a few spreads, jams, chutneys, relishes, honeys, oils and pastes.  Examples include tomato or pepper jelly, olive tapenade or sun-dried tomato paste.  Milder cheeses can take a more pungent spread, whereas a more pungent cheese should get a milder or sweet spread.

Bar

Go Beyond Crackers

Crackers are a classic choice to go with cheese.  But think beyond the cracker!  Open your thoughts to baguettes, pita and thin breadsticks for more of an artisanal look.  And assembly is not necessarily required!  Consider working with your caterer to mix in some composed options such as caprese crostini.  Or mix your own custom combination of a meat, a cheese, and some nuts in a mini boat for easy grabbing and noshing.

Catering Presentation is Key

You have an idea of what you what, now how do you make it pop!  The best caterers will have beautiful wooden cheese boards or butcher blocks, as well as marble slabs for display.  As is most food displays, varying heights can help really give visual dimension.  If you are recommending items be paired together, be sure to place them together and make it clear what goes with what.  Part of the fun of trying different cheeses and different pairings is learning about them.  Be sure to label each item to indicate what it is, some tasting notes and any pairing recommendations.  One fun way to label to display it on slate and label the slate with chalk!

Article courtesy of Messina’s Catering and Events, celebrating 58 years of catering in New Orleans.  We are proud to have been selected by New Orleans CityBusiness readers as Best Caterer for the 3rd year in a row!