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The Holiday Cheese Board

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Being the cheese maven that I am, I always am assigned to the cheese board at Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other special occasion! I’ve picked Holiday cheeses for my family, friends, and of course, my customers for over ten years now. Needless to say, I’ve learned a few things along the way.

Although the inner cheese nerd in me wants to share the rankest, ooziest cheeses I’ve recently discovered, I’ve learned to tone it down and have curated a list of cheeses that everyone will enjoy.

First thing to remember is sadly, restraint. Although it’s tempting to bring large hunks of several different cheeses (and we’d love you to purchase a lot for the sales of the store) it’s only necessary to bring a small sampling of 3-5 cheeses for the ultimate cheese platter. Your friends and family should already be in sweatpants for the big day but we don’t want them to feel the need to utilize that elastic band before the meal starts!

 

How much do I buy?

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My best Thanksgiving cheese spreads have included three to five cheeses and one, to two, accompaniments. The cheeses are what people expect, but better. I want them to say-oh, this cheese reminds me of  (insert cheese here) but so, so much better! Because I’m known as the Cheese Lady everyone wants to know a bit about each cheese and why I picked it. Here’s my guide so you can use it as a cheat sheet.  I’ve picked a list of crème de la crème cheeses for those of you who don’t mind spending money on an annual holiday, and I’ve also selected a list of more budget conscious cheeses that will still prove holiday worthy.

Normally, I recommend one ounce per person per cheese, but a Holiday meal is so overwhelming that you can scale that back to a little over half of an ounce. That means:

  • For four people: A quarter pound of each cheese (3-4 different cheeses)
  • For eight people: A quarter pound of each cheese (4-6 different cheeses)
  • For 12 people: A third to a half pound of each cheese (4-6 different cheeses)
  • For 16 people: A half to three quarters of a pound of each cheese

Pick two versatile accompaniments that can work well with several of the cheeses. I like Mini Croccantini original crackers and Raincoast Cranberry Crisps. Then, of course, I pick a great chutney. This year I’m especially excited about  Quince and Apple Chutneys. We have an array of different flavors that are on sale as this month’s Gourmet Picks.

Show up or set up with a rustic wood board or black slate that you can leave behind with your host(ess) as a thank you gift. We have slates available for sale at the store for $14.00 each.

 

What cheeses do I buy?

Something Creamy…

Harbison by Jasper Hill Cellars – Vermont
Regularly $36.99/lb, Holiday Sale Price $29.99

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Everyone’s looking for Brie. Don’t give it to them. Blow minds with Vermont’s answer to Camembert: Jasper Hill Creamery’s Harbison.  Harbison is wrapped in birch bark and its paste is woodsy, milky, and sublime.

On a budget? Fromager d’Afinois Brebis – France
Regularly $19.99/lb, Holiday Sale Price $16.99

daffinois-brebis

This ultrafiltered sheep’s milk is like lactic silk, the flavor similar to butter that would be fit for royalty. Everyone likes butter.

Something Goaty…

L’amuse Brabander Goat Gouda – Holland
Regularly $32.99/lb, Holiday Sale Price $26.99

Your friends and family will likely tell you “they hate goat cheese” so don’t tell them what it is, until they’ve tried it. L’amuse goat gouda has a beautiful white paste that is laden with lovely flavors of caramel and butter. It has a pleasant savory underpinning from the goat’s milk. Just wait for their reaction!

On a budget? Drunken Goat – Spain
Regularly $21.99/lb, Holiday Sale Price $15.99

Literally meaning ”goat with wine” this semi-firm pasteurized goat from Spain’s Mediterranean coast is cured for 48-72 hours in Doble Pasta red wine. The paste remains nearly pure white and the rind absorbs a lovely violet hue. The paste is sweet and smooth, delicately grapey, with a gentle, pliable texture and mild fruity flavor. Trust me, it will turn even a picky cheese eater to the goat side.

Something Cheddar like …

Americans love cheddar. Plain and Simple. The following are selections that will impress your cheddar loving guests without boring your cheese enthusiast to tears. 

Challerhocker – Alpine Cheese – Switzerland
Regularly $29.99/lb, Holiday Sale Price $24.99

challerhocker

This is our top selling cheese, because it’s so darn delicious. Translating to ”sitting in the cellar”, Challerhocker is washed in wine and spices and then aged for a minimum of 10 months, providing a remarkable depth of flavor. Firm yet creamy. This gem has the rich aroma of cooked custard, the flavor of slowly roasted nuts, and a lingering almost fruity finish. Challerhocker features a flavor veering more in the butterscotchy direction which pleases almost any pallet.

On a budget? Cabot Clothbound Cheddar – Vermont
Regularly $25.99/lb, Holiday Sale Price $19.99

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Here is where I praise clothbound cheddar and its vast complexities and differences from the block cheddar we all know and love Cabot Clothbound has a signature tang and caramel nuttiness with a rustic crystalline texture that becomes creamy on the palate. Cabot Clothbound is an award-winning cheese, including American Cheese Society’s 2006 Best in Show. It has placed in the top three for Cheddars made in the United States since its debut in 2003.

Something Blue…

Rogue Creamery River Blue Limited Edition – Oregon
Regularly $45.99/lb, Holiday Sale Price $39.99

rogue-blue

Great blue cheese isn’t a crumbly funky mess of mold. Turn even your most picky critics into blue cheese lovers with the following blue cheeses:

Rogue Creamery River Blue is released seasonally each fall, and is wrapped in pear-brandy macerated grape leaves. It tastes of fruit and cream with a smoky undertone. Although quite pricey this blue will be the highlight of your holiday cheese board.

On a budget? Gorgonzola Dolce D.O.P. – Italy
Regularly $19.99/lb, Holiday Sale Price $15.99

gorgonzola

Meaning “sweet” in Italian, Gorgonzola “Dolce” DOP is a soft, blue, buttery cheese made with uncooked cow’s whole milk. The cheese took its name from a small town in Lombardy near Milan, where it said to have been born in the 12th century. Flavors are not very assertive but sweet, mild with notes of sour cream and lactic tang.  Encourage your guests to try this cheese with some fruit chutney, they will surely become blue cheese believers.

 

These cheeses are on sale for November and December for your holiday cheese board pleasure. I hope to see all of you to help pick out a cheese board that’s perfect for your friends and family! If you’d like our team to put a board together for you, simply call with 24 hour’s notice and we’ll make sure to make a show stopping cheese platter for you. Please click here to visit our Catering page.

Yours in cheese,

Laura

 

Burgundy: The End of an Era?

If you are a lover of all things Burgundy, as I am, you have been swimming in a sea of nearly limitless options of liquid heaven. We have had a string of good to great vintages in the last two decades – 1999, here 2005, 2009. Finding a great bottle of wine has been almost like throwing darts at the wall. In short, Mother Nature has spoiled us by making vintage condition more amenable to making great wine year in and year out, luring us into believing Burgundy is a nearly limitless well of the world’s best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Pmmard

Pommard

For those of you that didn’t know, our well is going to start drying up for the immediate future.
The 2010 vintage was only short relative to the five years prior, but the low yields of ’11 and ’12 were worrisome. Production for many producers is down severely, in some cases up to an 80% reduction in 2012.

The real disaster is the most recent 2013 vintage. I would never deliberately try to sound like Chicken Little, but the sky literally fell. Hail destroyed whole vineyards sites completely and many of those were among the best vineyards of the Cotes d’Or. Some reports are saying the result will be an estimated 4 million bottle shortage. This will make even common wine that was once able to hit shelf without any difficulty into allocated items with much higher prices for lesser quality.

Post Hail Storm

I tend to be an optimist so I’m sure there is a solution for the wine drought from this region we love. One option is to take advantage of the upcoming futures of 2012. As many of you have seen, getting a few bottles is like playing the lottery: you need luck but you will be rewarded with some great wines at relatively great price. Another is to take advantage of what the critics have missed: namely great vintages that have had the misfortune of following a well-touted vintage like 2009 or 2005. No doubt these were great years, but the two vintages that followed were nothing to sneeze at. I dare say I would rather drink ’10 than ’09 any day of the week. The last option, and the one I find the most fun, is to find the communes that get looked over in the scramble for the Gevreys and Cortons. Morey St. Denis, Fixin and Santenay are places that make tremendous wines and don’t demand an arm or leg.

Lucky for us, enough people missed the boat on 2010 that there is still a backlog of wine from that year out there, waiting for us to slurp it up. At the end the day it’s the wait for the next great vintage, the search for the latest up-and-coming producer, and most of all, the gamble that they all come together in your glass to create the magic that keeps you looking for another bottle.

Dave

Cheese, a cure for the winter blues?

More snow. Surprise! This winter has been forever long. I’m sure a lot of you are just like me and want to continuously be in flannel, near a heat source, eating something deeply comforting. For those of you who suffer through the winter blues, cheese could help!

Cheese contains phenylethymine which stimulates the nerves to release chemicals called endorphins as well as serotonin. Endorphins, as most of you probably know, are natural pain killers that, like morphine, which induce a sense of mild euphoria. The long and short of it: cheese can make you feel good! I know it always helps my mood.

The good news is that we just received some jewels to make the chilly trek here worth your while. These are limited, so bundle up and come on in!

Mothais a la Feuille, Western France

Mothais a la Feuille has a soft, runny texture that becomes dense as it ages. The unique combination of earthy, lemony, and rustic flavors from the chestnut leaf become deeper as the cheese ages. It pairs well with some champagne or, if you like the heavier stuff, single malt whiskey. We suggest Eilan Gillan single malt scotch whiskey.

Robiolo Castagno, Piedmont, Italy

My personal favorite. This is a pure goat’s milk robiola from Piedmont wrapped in aged chestnut leaves. I’d describe it as pure bliss! Cakey, with a velvety texture on the outside. Open it up and use the chestnut leaves as a natural frame for the cheese. Pair it with Sangiovese. We suggest Campi Nuovi.

Pecorino Foglie di Noce, Northeastern Italy

This delectably sharp raw sheep’s milk cheese is wrapped in walnut leaves and aged for three months. We suggest it partnered with a Riesling or Port for a perfect evening.

If these cheeses don’t help you feel better from the doldrums of winter, you need to see a doctor, not a cheese monger!

Sending warm thoughts your way,

Laura