Before ‘writing’ became my full-time occupation I sold British cheese in America! Walk into Trader Joes, Safeway or Wholefoods and look at the range of English cheeses.
I am proud to say I would have played a part in getting many of them to you! I must say all the best and kindest people I know are from the cheese world – cheese people are good people!
Knowing cheese and liking cheese are two very different things, it was my job to visit dairies and taste the next wonderful Extra Mature Cheddar or Sticky Toffee cheese (yes it exists) BUT that was before my eating disorder took hold and cheese fell off the ‘foods I don’t eat’ list quicker than you can say – well ‘cheese’.
Now I am at the point of feeling ready to give my long lost cheese friend another try – it appears I have a dairy intolerance. Oh, the irony!
I can still remember the taste of an aged Blue Stilton (good and bad) or the sweet delicate flavor of Wensleydale with Cranberries AND I have been left with this AWESOME load of cheese knowledge.
I intend to share a little knowledge and a lot of ideas on how to create the perfect cheese board for your Thanksgiving.
Cheddar is British!!
What?! I know, hard to believe – right?
The name ‘Cheddar’ describes a hard cheese and was first made in the caves of an English village – named Cheddar. The village does exist and cheddar cheese is still aged in the caves. You can even buy it in the US – cave aged cheddar!
The Brits like to think they are accountable for the very first cheddar and anyone else claiming the name ‘cheddar’ should be locked in the caves!
Cheddar is the number one selling cheese in the UK. On average each Brit will consume 15lbs of cheese per year. In the US the average American will eat 30lbs of cheese a year! Mozzarella is America’s most consumed cheese – I was convinced it would be American cheddar or Jack!!
Like American cheddar, British cheddar can be bought in various flavor strengths. You can buy Mild, medium, mature, extra mature and Vintage; each will be aged for a certain number of months to dictate its flavor profile.
In the UK, ‘farmhouse cheddar’ refers to a cheddar produced in traditional molds and aged in its rind and cheese cloth. Farmstead or Farmhouse cheese is also made throughout the US and will follow similar production methods – including the cloth.
Farmhouse cheese is typically much stronger in flavor and will be aged from 3 months up to 24 months. It’s the kinda cheese that really hits your taste buds at the back of your mouth and in my experience Americans find English Farmhouse cheddar too strong! There is a challenge for you.
Now a cheese recognized and used globally, Cheddar of all types is produced all over the world.
More to cheese than Cheddar
There are over 4000 different types of cheese. You can buy cheese in all shapes, sizes, colors, consistencies and cheese made from all sorts of animals. Sheep, yaks, buffalo, reindeer (?), camel (?), goat to the humble cow!
Every country will claim a cheese it’s own; Camembert from France, Parmigiano from Italy or Harvati from Denmark, the choices are endless.
Blended cheeses have become increasingly popular, with producers looking to some weird and wonderful additives they can blend with their cheeses, after all being different makes you stand out from the cheese crowd.
One of the most popular cheeses I exported to the USA was Wensleydale with Cranberries, closely followed by Sticky Toffee Cheese.
Wensleydale is an awesome cheese. It’s light in color, has a crumbly texture and is light and refreshing, Real Wensleydale is produced in an AWESOME dairy in the Yorkshire dales in England. Read a little more about the dairy here! They have a fab visitor center, where you can visit their cheese shop, look at the cheese being produced and enjoy some free samples!
When the dairy added cranberries to Wensleydale, it was like a match made in heaven. The perfectly plump and sweet cranberries compliment the light Wensleydale cheese perfectly.
Now onto the extreme! Sticky Toffee Cheese! This innovative dairy decided that cheddar needed sweetening up!
Sticky Toffee cheese is a blend of 3 months aged cheddar with dates, raisins, and toffee pieces – it looks like candy and tastes like candy. Definitely worth a try and is a fab talking point around any thanksgiving table.
Let’s get all sophisticated for a second!!
The French and Italians know a thing or two about cheese and if you are throwing a thanksgiving party, a ‘grown up’ European cheese is always a good way to show off!!
Camembert is the most recognized French cheese across the world, a ripe Camembert should be just soft to the touch and not too runny on the inside. Always do the smell test too – The smellier the Camembert the riper it will be – just expect a few looks in the cheese aisle as you smell a cheese or two. :-))
Roquefort and Reblochon are also great party cheeses, both are flavorsome and go really well with red wine.
Italian cheese! It’s truly difficult to know where to start with Italian cheese as there are so many AWESOME cheeses to choose from. The best-selling Italian cheeses in the USA are Parmigiano, Mozzarella, Ricotta, Gorgonzola, and Mascarpone.
Parmigiano or ‘The King of Cheeses’ as it is often referred to is one of those cheeses that literally lends itself to be added to any recipe and make it taste amazing. Shave over salads, roasted vegetables, pasta dishes, mashed potatoes and it will take the dish to cheese heaven.
Traditionally made in HUGE rings and produced using unpasteurized cow’s milk, it is named after the regions in which it is made.
At 12 months old each wheel of cheese is inspected by Consorzio (important cheese police of Italy) and if it passes the grading test, it will be allowed the stamp of authority to approve that it is ‘good enough’ to be called Parmigiano.
Prior to this, the cheese would have followed a very strict process in how it was made; from the grass, the cow’s were fed with to the way in which the cheese has been stored and aged. It’s a very serious business!!
Let’s talk Gorgonzola. A blue-veined subtle and creamy cheese available in two types. Gorgonzola Picante; which has more of a natural flavor and bite from the blue and Gorgonzola Dolce which is sweeter and creamier. Gorgonzola is typically aged 3 – 4 months. In
In Italy, Gorgonzola will be added to risotto or served with polenta, but I love adding this cheese to savory muffins and bread, as it melts really well and offers an extra burst of cheese flavor.
Across all cheeses, Italy exported $2.5billion to the states in 2015 alone; now that’s a lot of Parmigiano!
Born in the USA
I have to say there are some fabulous cheeses produced in the USA, there are way too many for me to mention every single one BUT small artisan cheese producers are popping up everywhere making some of the best cheeses I have eaten (or used to eat)!
The ideal thanksgiving cheeseboard
Cheeseboards are a thing of beauty to me. They give you the ability to try lots of different cheeses and really appreciate just how unique each countries cheese can be.
Typically your thanksgiving cheeseboard should include a hard cheese, blue cheese, a couple of soft cheeses and a sweet cheese.
Using my experience from the world of cheese, I have put together three cheeseboard options for you to serve as part of your thanksgiving meal, party, dinner or even if you are just flying solo!
You should ideally serve around 1-2 oz of cheese per person, any more and you just get ‘cheesed off’ way too quickly. Five different cheese is always a good number too.
I also prefer serving a cheeseboard before dessert, in some countries, they will serve the dish as an appetizer before the main meal.
I have tried to choose cheeses which should be available in your grocery stores. Wholefoods and Murrays Cheese have an amazing cheese selection, so all else failing save your dollars a while longer and hunt for your cheese.
I have to add www.igourmet.com are a great place to buy imported cheese online (including Sticky Toffee Cheese) and have it delivered to your door – cheese by post? – Yes, please. I have no affiliation with this site, so my recommendation is sincere!
Cheeseboard 1 – Around the world
Italy – Parmigiano (Hard Cheese)
France – Camembert or Brie (Soft Cheese)
UK – Wensleydale with Cranberry (Sweet Cheese)
Spain – Manchego (Hard Cheese)
Italy – Gorgonzola Dolce (Blue Cheese)
Cheeseboard 2 – The All American
Oregon – Rogue Valley Smokey Blue (Blue Cheese)
Vermont – Cabot Clothbound Cheddar (Hard Cheese)
Virginia – Meadow Creek Grayson (Soft and smelly Cheese)
Wisconsin – Havarti with Dill (Savory/Sweet Cheese)
New York – Old Chatham Sheepherding Ewe’s Blue (Sheep and Blue)
Cheeseboard 3 – Kick your taste buds
UK – Sticky Toffee Cheese (Sweet)
French – Epoisses (Soft and strong)
Ireland – Cahills Cheddar with Porter (Semi-soft)
Dutch – Beemster XO 26 mth aged (Hard)
Germany – Smoked Ammerlander (Smoked semi-soft)
Serve any of the above with light oat biscuits, roasted chestnuts, a few grapes and apple slices. Apple really cleanses the palette as it’s acidity cuts through flavors. You will need this if you choose the ‘Kick your taste buds’ cheeseboard for your thanksgiving table.
I think its kinda fun if you prepare a cheese tasting sheet and get people to write down what they think each cheese is made from or what additional flavorings it has in it. The winner maybe wins more CHEESE!
Have a happy cheesy thanksgiving my lovely readers.