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The holiday season will soon be upon us and we will be searching for entertainment ideas. Cheese trays are a perennial favourite and can serve a large or small group. A few simple rules will make your cheese trays a success.

Start by answering three questions. How many people are you serving? What is your budget? Are you serving it before the meal or after?

Above all, keep it simple. You can make a splash with one great cheese such as a whole wheel of triple cream Brie with truffles. Make it the centrepiece.

If you want more variety, serve odd numbers of cheese, such as three, five or seven kinds. Cheese can be selected by themes such as all from one kind of milk or one country. Select contrasting flavours and textures. Guests will appreciate labels.

If serving cheese before dinner, keep it mild and soft such as fresh mozzarella or chevre. After dinner cheese can be richer such as a triple cream Brie or St. Andre. It can also be stronger in flavour such as blue, Manchego or old Cheddar. Either way, you will need about two ounces per person.

Be sure to take the cheese out of the refrigerator two or three hours in advance. Arrange on a nice platter, board or slate and cover with a slightly damp tea towel to keep them from drying out. Cheese tastes best at room temperature.

For a large party, cut cheese be-fore putting it on the board.

For soft and crumbly cheese, cut with a wire while still cold. Cut pieces according to the shape of the block or wedge. Cut in strips or wedges that can be eaten in one or two bites but not too thin. Thin slices of cheese can become translucent looking and dry out.

Small individual cheese plates are another option. This is especially nice if it follows dessert and you want to remain at the table and visit.

Stone fruits, grapes, pears and apples pair well. Toasted walnuts, marcona almonds and pecans also are a complement Choose dried fruits such as apricots, figs or dates. Avoid sugary sweets.

Never pour or drizzle cheese with a jam, honey or other accompaniment because people want to taste the cheese. Let guests add the jam themselves.

Have a variety of crostini, water crackers, olive or walnut bread and baguettes to serve with each.

Boards: Natural materials such as wood, slate and marble are ideal. Not only do they complement the appearance of the cheese but can withstand slicing and scraping.

Wire slicer: They easily make uniform slices. They work best if the cheese is slightly chilled and firm.

Cheese knives: A knife with two prongs at the tip is the most common type of knife. It allows for easy transfer of the cheese to the guest’s plate. When using knives for soft-ripened cheese, such as Brie, try to minimize the surface area to prevent the oozy cheese from sticking to the blade. Open holes in the blade further reduces sticking.

Cheese planes: This resembles a small, wedge shaped cake server. A sharp slit at the base shaves off thin slices. They are to be used with firm cheese only.

Wrap cheese in parchment paper and then loosely wrap in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.

Canada produces more than 1,050 cheeses and producers win many awards.

In Canada, cheese is categorized according to the moisture content. Most fall into the firm, soft or semi-soft cheese category. The other three categories are blue veined, hard and fresh cheese.

They are sorted according to the type of milk, cheese category, milk treatment, fat content, ripening period and production method.

For more information, visit the Canadian Dairy Information Centre on the Government of Canada website.

Soft cheeses that pair well with white wines such as Chablis and Viognier include Brie, Burrata , mozzarella and St. Andre.

Firm cheeses pair well with champagne, unoaked chardonnay or pinot noir. They include Comte, feta, cheddar, gouda and Fontina.

Hard cheese like parmesan, asiago and pecorino usually have a stronger flavour and can be served with white or red wines and beer.

Blue cheese pairs well with a richer red wine, port or beer.

Facts About Cheese

  • Swiss cheese without holes is called blind.
  • A person who loves cheese is called a turophile.
  • The crunchy bits in Romano cheese aren’t salt but amino acid tyrosine. Tyrosine can trigger mood-boosting neurotransmitters like dopamine so this may be why cheese is so addictive.
  • Cheez Whiz contains the ingredients to make cheese, but not the cheese itself.
  • Mice don’t like cheese. Perhaps that is why they like Cheez Whiz.
  • Wisconsin uses cheese whey combined with rock salt to de-ice roads.
  • Smelly cheese and smelly feet have something in common. A bacterium called Brevibacerium linens is responsible for the similar smells.

Sarah Galvin is a home economist, teacher and farmers’ market vendor at Swift Current, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. She writes a blog at Contact:

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