It's that time of the year again…appetizer season! This time of the year seems to present itself with many opportunities for parties and I'm always looking for new appetizer ideas. In my humble opinion, some of the best appetizers that I've ever had all include some sort of artisan cheese. Maybe it's because I come from the cheese state of Wisconsin or maybe it's because I consider cheese appetizers to offer the best flavors. Either way, I always find guests asking for more of the cheesy appetizers that I prepare.
Artisan cheeses are often much richer in flavor than your typical cheddar. Many are creamy and can be quite pungent. My mantra is 'the smellier the better'! It took me a while to get on board with cheese but after attending a handful of cheese tasting events I have come to appreciate them more. One of the things that I love about artisan cheeses is that they tend to be handmade and prepared in smaller batches. If you're a cheese beginner, I have some simple tips for you to help in your cheese pairings this holiday season. - Blue Veined Cheeses such as Litehouse Gorgonzola Crumbles and Blue Cheese Crumbles are best paired with fruit, nuts and spices such as ginger. These accompaniments help balance out the typically salty flavors these cheeses offer. I would also like to suggest pairing these cheeses with red wines and flavored beers. - Hard cheeses such as Parmesan, Asiago and Romano are best paired with foods that pack an intense flavor punch. These should be paired with grilled vegetables, spicy nuts, tangy vinegars and cured meats. Hard cheeses are best paired with fruitier white wines. - Soft and Fresh cheeses such as mascarpone, ricotta and feta are best paired with sweets such as honey or syrup and are best used in a dip. Fruity, floral wines are best to pair with soft cheese. - Soft-ripened cheeses such as brie are best served hot out of the oven. One of my favorite things to make is baked brie, stuffed with fig jam and pecans. Sparkling wines and fruity lagers pair best with soft-ripened cheese. - Semi-hard cheeses such as aged cheddar offers a rich and nutty flavor. The longer these cheeses age, the more rich and pungent the flavors will become. These cheeses are best served with cranberries or apples, peppers and spicy nuts. Pair your semi-hard cheeses with sparkling ciders and pale ales.
I don't know about you but I could really go for a tray of cheese right about now. Cheese is not as intimidating as it may seem. Start out with the semi-hard cheeses and ease your way into the blue and hard cheeses; you might consider making this recipe for Caramelized Pear & Gorgonzola Tarts. I would definitely say that artisan cheeses are an acquired taste but if you're open to new flavors I think you're really going to fall in love with what they have to offer.