Cheese Board

The holiday season is over and some of us are heading to the gym or simply snuggling up in the cold of January. We are ready to cradle bowls of hearty stews or create a simple cheese platter served with crusty baguette and a cup of hot tomato bisque.

And, yes, there is all that cheese left over from holiday entertaining.

The nutty, buttery, earthy tastes of assorted cheeses sound comforting when sitting by a cozy fireplace, so I reached out to few cheese shops, among them Fromagerie Sophie and Vivant Fine Cheese, two favorite destinations for a turophile (cheese fancier).

My mission started with veteran cheesemonger Sophie Boban-Doering, owner of San Luis Obispo’s popular cheese shop Fromagerie Sophie. The store is stocked with some 60 to 70 cheeses with a database of over 300, mostly imported with a small U.S. selection from California, Washington State, Oregon and Indiana.

A visit with Boban-Doering is like a Cheese 101 lesson; it’s a total immersion and education. There are a few essentials in assembling a well-crafted cheese platter, she observes.

“Think of your cheese board as setting a table,” advises Boban-Doering. “How you want to present different colors, textures, heights and profiles of cheeses.”

Let your creativity guide you in decorating with edible flowers, dried and fresh fruits, nuts and honeycomb.

To assemble a cheese board, Boban-Doering suggests including a range of cheeses — one each of sheep, cow, buffalo and goat milk. “They all bring different profiles and textures,” she notes, plus the sheep and goat cheeses are easier on people with lactose intolerance.

Next, incorporate color with orange-tinted cheeses such as gouda from Holland, Mimolette from France, the classic British Sparkenhoe Red Leicester or Midnight Moon, a goat gouda made in Holland exclusively for California’s Cypress Grove cheese company, a nutty creamy cheese with a delicious caramel finish.

Add soft, creamy cheeses, such as the Italian Robiolo di Capra, a cow and goat’s milk blend wrapped in leek leaves from Piedmont; or Époisses de Bourgogne, the odiferous, soft, washed rind, cow cheese from Burgundy. Blue cheeses, wrapped in grape or fig leaves and soaked in brandy or whiskey are also a must on the cheese board.

At Vivant Fine Cheese in downtown Paso, I found an overwhelming selection. The store stocks over 250 varieties, mostly imported and a few from California, Oregon and Wisconsin. There were such offerings as the Derby sage cheddar from Holland, an Alpine cheese coated with herbs and flowers, a truffle-laced Moliterno from Sardinia and an Irish cheddar fused with Porter beer.
In the winter season, a glass of Port or Madeira is a match made in Heaven with salty blue cheeses such as Oregon’s Rogue River blue cheese soaked in pear brandy and wrapped in grape leaves.

Nearby, Di Raimondos Italian Market and Cheese Shop offers a selection of some 50 varieties. Among them, the cave-aged Mimolette, an earthy Spanish blue Valdeon; Dreamweaver, a beer-washed soft goat cheese; and Old Quebec, the classic three-year aged Canadian cheddar.

What about the leftover cheeses from the holidays, I ask? Boban-Doering’s face lights up.

“No, you don’t want it to ever go to waste,” she replies. “It’s not going to go bad, it’s cheese.”

First off, how about a fondue?

“Make a mélange of cheeses, put it all in food processor, melt it for fondue,” she advises. The mélange also makes a delicious dip and toppings for soups and nachos.

Then you can get creative with assorted cheeses as toppings on flatbread pizzas or whip up a mac n’ cheese.

Leftover Époisses? Stuff it in fresh ravioli and cook it with butter — simple and delicious. Add the rind of Grana Padano to flavor vegetable soups or fill scones or tartlets with leftover Brie.

As for grilled cheese sandwiches, she suggests hard cheeses, such as the earthy, mushroomy Welsh cheese Gorwydd Caerphilly. It goes well with Chardonnay, Riesling or beer. Other sandwich options include Welsh Rarebit and Croque Monsieur.

Then there’s the Raclette, an Alpine cow’s milk cheese and a Swiss dish. The cheese is melted on a special Raclette grill, scraped off directly on a plate and served with sliced meats and potatoes.

The hearty cheese-based dishes are not only ideal for winter, they’re also a great match for Paso’s bold red wines.