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So you’ve decided to have a wine and cheese party. Why? Because you’re savvy, stylish, and in-the-know. You like good food. You also know that sometimes not cooking is the best way to dazzle your guests. This cheese fête could be a rambunctious gathering of dozens of your closest friends or even a quiet night for two in front of the TV. Either way, wine and cheese is always a party in my book.
You’re smart. You’ve stopped by the cheese counter at Surdyk’s and selected three to five fabulous cheeses with the help of your cheesemonger. You then brought that cheese over to the wine department and solicited pairing advice from our brilliant wine consultants. You remembered the Rustica baguette and a box of interesting crackers. You’re set. Or are you?
Cheese, bread, and wine are a perfect formula, one that some might argue should not be messed with. I tend to agree. Keep it simple. However, I can’t help but think about all the infinite possibilities out there that can elevate a cheese plate, taking it from the hum-drum predictability of “a perfect formula” to an extraordinarily remarkable gastronomic experience. The key is to balance, complement, or contrast the flavors and textures of the cheese with an accompaniment. It’s just like pairing food with wine. Think soft cheeses with crunchy nuts, something strong and salty with something a little sweet, or aged cheeses paired with fresh summer fruit. The possibilities are endless.
I love cheese accompaniments, especially when they bring a little sweetness to the table. Honey is an all-time favorite, especially the local, artisan honeys made by Bare Honey and Ames Farm. If you’ve yet to try quince membrillo or fig jam, get on it! These two are staples of any cheese-lover’s bag of tricks. Another great, lesser-known choice is mostarda: an Italian condiment made from preserved, candied fruit and spicy mustard. Sharp and sweet, it is fantastic with Taleggio or a hard, aged cheese like Piave Vecchio or Parmesan. Pear mostarda is a classic, but my current pick is perfect for summer: white watermelon mostarda. Lastly, don’t forget the crunch. Marcona almonds are a perfect accompaniment to Spanish cheeses—a rich, salty, and nutty match for Manchego or Pata Cabra. My favorite pairing for blue cheeses is something we actually make in house at Surdyk’s: our sweet and spicy candied walnuts. You’re going to have to trust me on this one.
As I tend to say, there’s a whole lot more where that came from. And it’s true. Olives (Try making your own mix of Lucques, Castelvetranos, and fleshy Kalamatas); aged balsamic vinegar; saba; or local, handmade jams from HeathGlen’s Kitchen and Lucille’s Kitchen Garden are just a few ways to spruce up the old cheese plate. Give cheese accompaniments a try and you just may stumble upon your own perfect formula for cheese bliss. –Emily Dunne, surdyks.com
Andrew Zimmern is a columnist for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine and the host of Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.See bio
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