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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 11/23/2010

Say Cheese: A Thanksgiving platter

By Domenica Marchetti

From left: Pleasant Ridge Reserve (Uplands Cheese Company), Black & Blue (FireFly Farms), Rocchetta (Caseficio dell'Alta Langa). (Domenica Marchetti)

You might think that putting out a cheese platter on Thanksgiving verges on excess. After all, between the turkey and all the fixings — the stuffing and gravy, the mashed potatoes and baked yams, the Brussels sprouts and green beans, the pecan pie and pumpkin pie and apple pie — with such abundance, isn’t a cheese platter a little…much?

Not at all. Indeed, it is entirely appropriate. Think about it: Thanksgiving is a day-long celebration. It’s not a situation in which people arrive, eat and leave. If you’re having company, it’s likely they will be coming early and staying late. They may be staying the entire weekend. You will need, at the very least, something to whet the appetite while the bird roasts.

The challenge, then, is finding the right cheeses — ones that will complement a Thanksgiving menu but that will not overwhelm. For suggestions, I turned to Carolyn Stromberg. She is owner of the Cheese Course, a newly minted business that organizes private cheese and wine tastings, cheese classes, and provides consulting services to restaurants. (Previously, Stromberg oversaw the cheese program at Old Hickory Steakhouse, at Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, and she has also worked at Cheesetique, Cowgirl Creamery, as well as numerous restaurants in the District.)

We agreed that three cheeses seemed to be the right amount, and would be enough for an interesting variety but still judicious. Here’s what we came up with:

Rocchetta. This rich, fluffy cheese with a soft, crimped rind is one of my favorites, made by the Caseficio dell’Alta Langa, in Italy’s Piedmont region. It’s a mixed cheese, made from the milk of cows, goats and sheep.

“Rocchetta has great complexity of flavor but it’s not overwhelming,” Stromberg says. “It has a little bit of a rind as well, so you get a contrast of textures.” Stromberg also recommended a similar mixed-milk cheese called Trio, by Andante Dairy, a small California producer. However, Andante’s cheeses are not widely available across the country, and you are more likely to find Rocchetta. Locally, I’ve found it at Balducci's, Whole Foods and Cheesetique, among other places.

Pleasant Ridge Reserve. The extra-aged version of this raw-milk Alpine-style cheese, by Uplands Cheese Co. in Wisconsin, was recently named best cheese in America by the American Cheese Society. That distinction alone makes it a fine choice for a Thanksgiving cheese plate. If you are unable to find Extra-Aged Pleasant Ridge Reserve, know that you can happily settle for the more readily available Pleasant Ridge Reserve. The cheese is made only in summer, from the milk of cows that graze on fresh pasture. It is aged in ripening rooms on the farm. The rind is thin, hard, and the color of sand, with fine cross-hatchings. The paste is dense and mostly smooth and a rich golden color. In flavor, it’s buttery and nutty, salty, but with a sweet caramelly finish.

Black & Blue. Firefly Farms, in Maryland, produces this award-winning goat’s-milk blue cheese. Rather than being ivory-colored, like blue cheeses made with cow’s milk, Black & Blue has a beautiful creamy-crumbly white paste that is shot through with dark blue veins. The cheese is sealed and aged in black wax, hence the name. Its flavor is both salty and sweet, with a robust though not overpowering blue note.

Two other blues that Stromberg recommended are Black River Blue, from Wisconsin, which she described as “bright and full-flavored but not pungent”; and Berkshire Blue, from Massachusetts, “salty and sweet and a little fudgey.”

Stromberg recommends serving the cheeses with a variety of accompaniments, such as a small bowl of dried cherries or cranberries, sliced honeycrisp or Pink Lady apples and toasted hazelnuts. For an extra special touch, she suggested a flavorful honey, such as thyme honey, to drizzle over the blue cheese. I found some fresh unshelled walnuts at MOM’s Organic Market the other day, so I plan to put those out with my selection, along with a nutcracker for guests to help themselves.

What cheeses will grace your Thanksgiving table?

By Domenica Marchetti  | November 23, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Holiday, Say Cheese  | Tags:  Domenica Marchetti, Say Cheese, holiday  
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Extra sharp cheddar, horseradish, and dill,and and Stilton cheese with cranberry is what I provide.

Posted by: CoraCollins | November 24, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

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