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Building a cheese board
Often at Trader Joes, I am hostess in the cheese corner, an official position for a busy holiday hour which includes me cheerfully roving, arranging, and answering customer questions. Now and then, someone will ask my very favorite question, in a half-embarrassed, harried, and low-key manner: "Can you just help me put together a cheese board?"
I live for this moment! In my nearly 7 years with the company, writing the cheese order, I studied Trader Joes' "cheeseopedia" detailing origins, varietal and feature cheese composition and nutrition facts. As my passion for food and wine pairings grew, I learned on my own and compiled a cache of my complimentary and varietal favorites.
I answer the question with my best oratory yet casual, show-and-tell lecture voice for the other, equally overwhelmed party planners to hear. Like every woman needs a little black dress, a WOW red dress in her quiver; David needed only 5 smooth stones to slay Goliath- Hosts need at least a handful of unique cheeses to share a cheese board, for every season, and 1 or 2 that can stand alone.
But some basics first. When building a cheese board, Trader Joes taught me to ensure your cheeseboard has a colorful display of varying textures, flavors, and different milk bases. More than 5 can turn your board from a wine lounge, to a buffet, so K.I.S.S.: keep it simple, stupid.
Head cheese maker and American Cheese Society certified cheese professional Veronica Pedraza reminds that cheese is a preserved food. She says, there’s actually no need to refrigerate hard, aged cheese. If you bought it before your party day, set it on the counter one hour before you serve. Room-temperature cheese reveals flavor subtleties better than cold cheese does. Personally, I like to see the oils bead like sweat on my semi-hards, that's my barometer for optimal aroma on the board.
The Cheeseboard: what am I looking at?
The goal is to excite the eyes, nose and mouth, so I let each color, age group, texture, shape , aroma and taste strike a pose. Decades ago, Trader Joes, if you know your TJs history, used to include a cheese shop in store, where we cut and packaged on the spot. Now we do it in our warehouse, but the vision is the same. We are winos and cheeseheads who know our product and enjoy the display thereof. Most of our labels peel off easily and I encourage you to label your cheeses on your board. Guests appreciate the knowledge and it's just another effortless conversation starter.
Practical tips to remember:
- Cut your cheese on a different board than on that which you intend to serve
- Avoid cubing all cheeses. Ribboning semi hards, loosely breaking hard aged cheeses and keeping logs or wheels intact is appealing to the eye and maintaining or mirroring the integrity of the original cut will be noticed
- offer separate cheese knives for the soft cheeses, mini tongs for the pieces
- A cheese board, only second to stripes and plaids in the same ensemble, is a place where keeping different cheeses separate, but equal, is best. Intermingling crumbs are ugly and confusing to the palate
- Offering a bread and a cracker or 2 is equally important. Again the goal is tease the palate and eye with distinctive textures and tastes