Cheese Gifts for the Naughty and Nice

It’s holiday season, so you know what that means: cheese gifts and cheese boards galore. And because you’re no doubt the designated cheese geek in your circle of friends, everyone’s expecting a cheese gift box or cheese platter for their next party. If you’re stuck in a cheesy rut, here are some ideas:

The Cheese Gift Box for the Relatives You Don’t Like
Yep, we’ve all got an in-law or an annoying opinionated uncle in our family that we don’t particularly care for, but we know they expect a gift. So this year, give them the gift of cheese. Kill them with kindness with a simple gift box of your favorite medium cheddar, mild blue and young gouda. Tie it up and stick on a bow, and then spend bigger bucks on the folks you like. Which leads me to:

The Cheese Gift Box for Your Favorite Friends
This is where it gets fun. These are the people that you choose to hang out with; the people who ask you the questions they don’t know about cheese and expect you to know the answer. So wow them with the same formula as above, but swap for stellar Wisconsin cheeses: Hook’s 15-Year Cheddar (only available now, during the holidays); Dunbarton Blue from Roelli Cheese in Shullsburg (crafted by newly-minted MASTER Cheesemaker Chris Roelli; and Marieke 6-9 month Gouda, because it a) tastes amazing, b) won the 2013 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest, so you’ve got the hardware to back you up, and c) it’s made by one of the coolest women on the planet: Marieke Penterman. Slam. Dunk.

The Cheese Platter for the Holiday Work Party
This one’s tricky, because you’re likely feeding a crowd who may know next to nothing about cheese, but as pointed out earlier, expect you to bring the good stuff because you’re the office cheese geek. So go with volume on a budget. Pick up some healthy-sized chunks of Cedar Grove Extra Sharp Cheddar in Plain, Wis.; Edelweiss Butterkase from Master Cheesemaker Bruce Workman in Monticello; Widmer’s Brick Cheese Spread and a package of Potter’s Winter Wheat Crackers; and a large log of Blueberry Goat Cheese from Montchevre in Belmont, Wis. You’ll have an attractive, well-rounded cheese platter with plenty of talking points that won’t put you in the poor house.

Finally: The Cheese Gift Box for the Cheese Geek

Let’s face it: this is Wisconsin, so we’ve all got that one friend who is REALLY into cheese. Pamper them with a themed gift box of the hottest style of cheese right now: alpine. Start with the no-brainer of Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese in Dodgeville; include a healthy chunk of Grand Cru Surchoix, an extra-aged Gruyere (yes, it’s still a Gruyere, even though they took that word off the label) from Roth Cheese in Monroe, and if you can find it: Cupola from Red Barn Family Farms, a semi-hard cheese with notes of caramel and toasted pineapple. Include a bottle of your favorite Pinot Noir or Beaujolais and you’ll be official friends for life.

New Year Cheese Boards

Whether you’re throwing, attending or crashing a party, one of the best things to serve or bring with you this time of year is a cheese board.

When it comes to putting a board together, it’s actually pretty easy to make yourself look good. You don’t have to be the guy that brings the port-wine cheese ball on a paper plate. Instead, put together a nice selection of cheeses, place them on an attractive wooden, marble or slate cheese board, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be greeted with the enthusiasm of one of the magi.

Consider one of these three cheese board presentations:

1. The Traditional Cheese Board
This board features five different cheeses, each from a different category. Find an attractive wooden board and place ¼ pound of each of the below cheeses, each wrapped in parchment paper or special cheese paper available at specialty cheese shops.

•    La-Von Farmhouse Brie, Caprine Supreme (bloomy rind)
•    Marieke Golden, Holland’s Family Cheese (semi-soft)
•    Widmer’s 6-Year Cheddar, Widmer’s Cheese Cellars (semi-hard)
•    Ocooch Mountain, Hidden Springs Creamery (hard)
•    Buttermilk Blue, Emmi Roth USA (blue)

Add a nice cheese knife, a package of Potter’s Crackers, and voila: instant cheese gift.

2. Celebrating Different Milks
Your friends and family may not be overly familiar with cheeses not made from cow’s milk, so this isn’t the time to introduce them to a bold, stinky goat cheese. Try some milder versions instead, such as:

•    Chandoka, LaClare Farms (goat/cow mix)
•    Pastoral Blend, Sartori (sheep/cow mix)
•    Dante, Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Co-op (sheep)
•    Billy Blue, Carr Valley Cheese (goat)

Add a fresh baguette and jar of Quince & Apple’s Pear with Ginger and Honey to compliment the Billy Blue and Chandoka. Your friends will thank you.

3. Cheddar, Four Different Ways
This is one of my favorite ways to do a cheese board. Pick one of your favorite cheeses, and then purchase four different versions, made by four different companies or with different milks. Cheddar is one of the easiest ways to do accomplish this method. For example, include on your board:

•    Bandaged Cheddar, Bleu Mont Dairy (bandaged)
•    10-Year Cheddar, Hook’s Cheese (extra aged)
•    Goat Cheddar, LaClare Farms (goat’s milk)
•    Timothy’s Farmhouse Cheddar, Kelley Country Creamery (traditional Wisconsin cow’s milk Cheddar)

Add a bag of spiced pecans from the Treat Bake Shop in Milwaukee and a package of Toasted Wheat crackers, and you’re all set.

Happy new year!