Help me convert an entire office into cheese fiends.
July 19, 2008 7:04 PM   Subscribe

I've been put in charge of a workplace cheese lunch. Introducing the staff to the world of fancy cheese, hopefully to convert them away from the usual radioactive-orange ... stuff ... that's out there. But I have no idea what to prepare. French bread, I think? And sparkling cider because we can't have alcohol on the job? But the cheese? What cheeses are near-guaranteed winners, and won't be overpowered by sparkling cider? Help! I wish to go down in history as the awesomest cheese introducer ever.

My work colleagues don't know much about cheese, and can't imagine what I could possibly come up with. They're telling me, Well, nacho cheese dips and mac-and-cheese are pretty ordinary, isn't it? WELL OKAY THEN LET ME BLOW YOUR MINDS.

So my idea is an expanded version of a fancy lunch basket. The wine/bread/cheese basket, except that I can't really have wine. Although I do think sparkling cider will kill the taste buds.

Workplace pays for this, so there's no budget!
posted by Xere to Food & Drink (43 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Try a variety of dishes, one could be...

Good (real) cheddar in a Ploughman's Lunch

Can use Stilton- but not for cheese novices
posted by mattoxic at 7:17 PM on July 19, 2008

posted by konolia at 7:19 PM on July 19, 2008

Well, first off, go for a range of cheese styles, from soft to hard.

Soft: Brie, Camembert, Feta
Semi-Soft: Colby, Baby Swiss
Semi-Hard: Chedder, Double Glouster, Provelone, Gouda
You may want to skip the hard cheese as they're not so good in my opinion for eating alone. (i.e. Parmesan, Asiago, etc.)

Fresh fruits will be good to pair with the cheeses. Provide a very light bread or cracker to put it on.
posted by SansPoint at 7:21 PM on July 19, 2008

Hate to say this, but for novices, select some white stilton with fruit embedded. Eg while stilton and apricot. It's the cheese equivalent of Budweiser, but it'll do.

Add a couple of types of fairly plain cracker, and, as SansPoint suggests, fruit. Especially grapes.

(Personally, I like Stilton and Roquefort. Many people don't like blue cheeses, but you should have at least one.)
posted by Leon at 7:24 PM on July 19, 2008

You will need very fresh baguette(s), butter (not straight out of the fridge), along with some or all of SansPoint's suggestions. If they are not familiar with matured i.e. sharp cheddar, maybe you should warn them?
In fact, you should make small named/descriptive flags with toothpicks on the various cheeses. Seconding keep away from Stilton and other stinky cheeses, i.e. Limburger?
What to drink is difficult in your case, maybe some non-alcoholic wine (not too sweet if you can find any.)
posted by lungtaworld at 7:38 PM on July 19, 2008

You want Ewephoria. It's simply the best cheese ever. If you're lucky you may also find Hoch y Brig. Both have an amazing crystalline salty thing going, almost crunchy. Also have some Gjetost on hand, for novelty value, and plus it's really good. Some Finn Crisps, or other dry very flat bread, is great because you can taste the cheese better than with French bread. A carmeliszed onion jam, or a spicy red pepper one, is a good counterpoint, as are sliced pears, grapes, kiwi, green peppers, oil-cured black olives, and jicima.
posted by DenOfSizer at 7:50 PM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

^ Gjetost is like cheese fudge. It's carmelized, and incredibly sweet.
posted by DenOfSizer at 7:51 PM on July 19, 2008

where are you located? is there a good cheese shop in your town? an upscale grocery store? a whole foods or similar? all of those have great cheese selections and people on hand who really know their cheeses.
posted by violetk at 8:07 PM on July 19, 2008

Manchego. It's relatively mild, but with wonderful mild flavor. Most people will not be offended by it. Pairs wonderfully with a variety of jams (quince is the classic, but many things will work).
posted by jacquilynne at 8:07 PM on July 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Drunken goat cheese
posted by healthyliving at 8:07 PM on July 19, 2008

Where are you? In California there are some wonderful cheeses, but I have no idea what their distribution is. I'm thinking of Maytag Blue and Humboldt Fog in particular. The Humboldt Fog is either sheep or goat cheese, can't remember which, and it looks like a Morbier but doesn't taste like one. Maytag Blue is Roquefort-ish but less assertive. Camembert or Bethmale would be good to have as well and Camembert's fairly available. Bethmale is sheep cheese and utterly perfect and I got some at Whole Foods last week. The Whole Foods around here have very good cheese departments. They will frequently let you try what's on offer. National chains, not so much.

Whatever, Carr's Table Water crackers, French baguettes made from white flour, and unsalted butter would complete the kind of meal you're talking about. Walnuts and apple slices will go well too. Sparkling cider would be a bit weird even though the apples work fine; I think I'd hand out either lemonade with limited sweetness, or fizzy water.
posted by jet_silver at 8:11 PM on July 19, 2008

My favorite cheesy bits are toasted rounds of bread with a piece of gambazola (like a brei bleu cheese) with pumpkin seeds and honey on it. I sometimes make this into a sandwich and take it for lunch.

I fins a really good gruyere can stand up to anything. It has a very firm texture and is a type of swiss but it is almost like a softer form of Parmesan. It even has those crunchy crystals in it and tastes great even against a really full red wine.

I second the idea of having a sweet/savory relish with the cheeses like onion jam or a good jalapeno jelly.
posted by Foam Pants at 8:14 PM on July 19, 2008

I really don't like cheese except for when it is melted on pizza or grilled cheese.

That said, I've had this goat cheese with Pistachio's and honey that made me happy that I actually could eat a "fancy" cheese without gagging or thinking it takes like puke.

Brie and bread and fruit is yummy as well.

I liked the fresh butter suggestion, get some really nice butter and you'll be able to include the folks who just can't bring themselves to eat fancy cheese
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:19 PM on July 19, 2008

(I love cheese, but I hate Gjetost).

Do you have a good deli near/accessible? My local deli has a massive range of cheese, and they'll let you taste them and probably be able to recommend a good variety suitable for beginners. I like dried fruits with cheese as well, dried apricots or sultanas.
posted by jacalata at 8:23 PM on July 19, 2008

Seconding the recommendation to find a good cheesemonger. If you are able to get half the cheeses recommended here, odds are that you live in an area that would have a cheesemonger. I have created amazing wine/cheese parties with the help of my cheesemonger (shoutout to Lydia at Fox & Obel!).
posted by MeetMegan at 8:34 PM on July 19, 2008

Best.Cheeses.Ever. Available at Whole Foods.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 8:38 PM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm in Los Angeles.
posted by Xere at 8:45 PM on July 19, 2008

jetsilver: I'm in Los Angeles.
posted by Xere at 8:45 PM on July 19, 2008

I could eat gruyere for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What about some fresh mazzarella? People who have only had string cheese mazzarella are always pleasantly surprised when they try fresh mazz. Provelone, while it has a great texture, doesn't have much flavor, so I'd skip it if you're trying to introduce people to something new and exciting.

I like the butter idea, too. Buy or make a couple compound butters to add some extra flavor.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:48 PM on July 19, 2008

Be prepared to be left with a lot of leftover cheese. Maybe feel out your audience so you don't waste your money. I think a lot of people like the idea of interesting/expensive cheese more than the reality.
posted by smackfu at 8:52 PM on July 19, 2008

Cotswold Gloucester is like heaven on earth.
posted by mynameisluka at 8:53 PM on July 19, 2008

The California blue that jet_silver is thinking of is actually called Point Reyes (it is based on Maytag). Check your local Whole Foods - they may carry it. And talk to the folks at your WF or local cheese shop (I used to work in cheese at WF). The rule of thumb is that five varieties is almost too many, and three is barely enough.
posted by rtha at 8:59 PM on July 19, 2008

Seconding jacquilynne with the manchego, and recommending, if you can find it, some membrillo as well, which is a sweetened quince paste that has been cooked down until it is deep orange in color, and flattened into sheets. You slice the manchego into thin slices, and layer a slice of the membrillo over the manchego, like this. Enjoy!
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 9:07 PM on July 19, 2008

Xere, your Whole Foods is probably very like those up here. Hie thee there if you are not near an even better cheese shop.

You're right, rtha. I was thinking of Point Reyes.
posted by jet_silver at 9:35 PM on July 19, 2008

Piave. Yum. A hard cheese kind of like Parmesano Reggiano (some high-quality Parm Reg would be a good substitute though if you can't find the Piave). We usually have it with some spicy cured meat, like calabrese. Put them together = delish.
posted by pised at 9:39 PM on July 19, 2008

La Tur is the best cheese ever, anywhere. I think of it as cheese ice cream. It's really good, soft, not overwhelming but has a distinct flavor. And it is so smooth...
posted by rmless at 10:18 PM on July 19, 2008

Havarti is very buttery, with a nice mild tang. Perfect on bread, by itself or with a thin slice of salami, or even a slice of avocado.
posted by scody at 10:19 PM on July 19, 2008

Manchego....good for cheese novices...sounds fancy and the flavor is very non-scary (but tasty!).

If you are going to do a blue, try gorgonzola dolce...mild and very spreadable and even blue wusses can handle it.

If you are going to do a goat, try capricho de cabra...looks a little boring but great flavor and creamy texture.

Get an "everybody" cheese, such as prima donna, parrano or robusto. They are mild enough for the cheese novice, but enough flavor to satisfy a cheese lover.

Most or all should be available at your nearest Whole Foods. They are nice beginner cheeses...pretty much guaranteed winners that should start people off in the right direction. And all are a little off the beaten track for most non-cheese people...they will think these cheeses are "fancy."

And be sure to include a baguette...not everyone likes their cheese with crackers!
posted by krisptoria at 10:55 PM on July 19, 2008

You're in Los Angeles, sweet! So the non-frightening option is to go to your local Whole Foods and ask for suggestions, buy your cheese there. Lots of good cheeses, much better variety and quality than your standard supermarket. Pick up some fruit (grapes, pear or apples), some fruit pastes/jams (they often have them on the shelf above the cheese fridges), some crackers, nuts (eg walnuts) and maybe a few types of bread too, don't just stick to french bread. Oh yes and the butter.

For cheeses, I suggest you mix and match some really good cheeses with some "fun" cheeses, so everyone can find something they like, and not feel overwhelmed. Don't be afraid to put some strong cheeses in there, like, yes, some stilton! This is a cheese-tasting for goodness sake, and stilton is a classic that everyone has probably heard of. Fun cheeses would be stuff like the white stilton with fruit in it, that port wine cheese and so on.

If you really want some expert help, there is an absolutely AMAZING cheese shop in Beverly Hills, called the Beverly Hills Cheese Shop funnily enough. Go in there and ask them the question you asked us. The cheese there puts Whole Foods to shame, both in variety and quality. It is also, much more expensive of course. Its probably overkill to go there for this mission, but I'm suggesting it because if YOU like cheese, you should check it out on your own time :)
posted by Joh at 11:16 PM on July 19, 2008

Since you are in LA I would recommend checking out either the Cheese Store of Silverlake or the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. They both have a great selection, lots of extras like crackers, olives, and jams, and they will let you taste everything. I've been to both shops a few times and I've always found the staff to be extremely knowledgeable about all the cheeses in their store. You may have to put up with a little pretension and way too many people in fedoras, but the cheese is worth it!
posted by Palmcorder Yajna at 11:23 PM on July 19, 2008

Cheese plates! I make these before dinner a few times a week.

My favorites (these are all aggressive cheeses):

Smoked Gouda
Drunken Goat cheese
Humboldt Fog
Dill Havarti
Soft goat cheese with honey/honeycomb is divine

White grapes, strawberries, water crackers, sweet baguettes, olive oil/balsamic vinegar are great for pairing.

Caprese salad is easy and delicious, but try making it with mangoes instead. Fresh mozzarella is key.

Leave your cheese sitting out for about an hour beforehand, cold cheese doesn't have as much flavor.

Yelp for cheese.
posted by idiotfactory at 1:06 AM on July 20, 2008

St Agur, Oka and Isle of Mull would be my choices to get folks off the dismal run-of-the-mill American cheese.
posted by scruss at 4:41 AM on July 20, 2008

Skip the cider and just go with lightly bubbled water instead. Have some honey for your chevre goatscheese or a sweet reduction of balsamic vinegar is also good.
Grab some apfenzeller, it's a hard cheese that is very nommy.
posted by Iteki at 6:41 AM on July 20, 2008

I'll second most all of these suggestions, although I'd add also suggest you get some quality versions of familiar cheeses, since people who aren't cheese lovers often haven't tried soft cheeses.

I'll also recommend baked brie - everyone likes melty cheese in crispy pastry.
posted by lindsey.nicole at 7:51 AM on July 20, 2008

I second that getting quality versions of familiar cheeses is a good intro. Fresh mozz, Italian sharp provolone, a good English cheddar like Montgomery's, aged gouda like Prima Donna (major crowd-pleaser), a nice young goat cheese like Humboldt Fog, a milder blue like gorgonzola dolce, good parmesan-regganio, etc.

Is this a series or a one-time deal?

Don't be shy at the cheese shop -- talk to your cheesemonger, tell them what you're looking to do, and they'll have a wealth of advice.
posted by desuetude at 10:38 AM on July 20, 2008

(Oh, and get a cheese planer for serving those hard cheeses.)
posted by desuetude at 10:39 AM on July 20, 2008

Get some Comte if you can. It's a bit like a Swiss cheese but much nicer - and not at all frightening for cheese newbies. I'm sure they'll love it.
posted by 8k at 12:13 PM on July 20, 2008

If you can find it, butterkase, it's a very delicate and softer german cheese that goes great on french bread.

I also suggest fromage afinois (I might've misspelled it), it's a tasty and milder cousin to brie.

Goat cheese can be a little strong on its own to the uninitiated, but a dab of honey (like the fancy kind that cheesemongers carry) will balance it and brie-like cheeses out. I like to eat this on a flatbread cracker, sometimes with berries.

I like pairing a Manchego with quince paste on a cracker as well.

Excuse me, I must leave my computer and eat cheese now.
posted by deinemutti at 5:13 PM on July 20, 2008

for truly mind-blowing cheese: chocolate goat cheese. it tastes just like what you think it taste like, and is surprisingly delicious!
posted by kidsleepy at 8:05 PM on July 20, 2008

If this is a social event where it would be a faux pas for someone in your office/group/etc to not attend, keep in mind that not everybody is into unusual cheeses; you might want to make some simple alternatives available (including non-cheese snacks for people who can't eat cheese).
posted by joquarky at 7:16 AM on July 21, 2008

Here's some ideas for food pairings.
posted by KathyK at 7:21 AM on July 21, 2008

Another idea for display.
posted by KathyK at 7:32 AM on July 21, 2008

Havarti! It's delicious and non-threatening. No visible mold, no scary bits inside. Would probably be lovely for people not used to fancy, colorful and/or pungent cheeses.
posted by meggan at 5:10 PM on July 22, 2008

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