Cheese season is upon us! Ok, who am I kidding, it’s always cheese season in my home—but whether you’re in the market for cheesy gifts for a loved one or a colleague, or you’re stocking the larder for your own festive cheese board, the winter holidays are an excellent excuse for a few trurophile-approved purchases.
One of my first food jobs was working as a cheesemonger, and the busy season that began each November and ran steadily through Valentine’s Day was the stuff of legend. A frenzy of gift basket orders and last-minute holiday party shoppers set the pace and cemented December in my mind as the time to go hard on a cheesy centerpiece. What form, exactly, that centerpiece takes—whether it’s a full wheel of Stilton or a high-drama raclette station—is all up to you
This fall, artist and Financial Times columnist Laila Gohar opened her much-anticipated lifestyle and entertaining shop on Lafayette Street in Manhattan. Among Gohar’s many surreal flourishes—think lace-embellished silver vinyl bistro aprons, mother of pearl salad servers, and menswear-inspired tablecloths—she’s also selling a playful collection of cheese-shaped candles from Italian candlemaker Cereria Introna. My favorite is this partial wheel of gouda—cheese board mood lighting for the “Is It Cake?” generation.
When I worked in cheese shops, I loved selling customers on the romantic story behind Gruyère d’Alpage. Swiss dairy farmers, leading their blissful herd gradually up the Alps as the last springtime snow recedes—revealing a bovine feast of fresh young grasses, herbs, and wildflowers. The stuff made for retail gold. It’s said that the cows’ seasonal diet results in a rich and nutrient-dense milk perfumed by the pasture, and that this milk is used to make one of the finest cheeses in the world.
Well, after 20 years of repeating the fairy tale, I can finally confirm its accuracy. Earlier this year, I visited the Alpine town of Gruyères, and got to visit a handful of the farmers and cheesemakers behind the great name-protected wheels (thanks, Cheeses from Switzerland!). There’s no question that I’ll be gift-wrapping a few wedges of Alpage Gruyère this year for all my friends and relatives who enjoy their cheese with a side of storytelling.
Zingerman’s top-of-the-line customer service and thoughtful selection of curated gift boxes keep me coming back whenever I want to ship a special care package. This epic box of Midwestern delicacies includes plenty of non-cheese items (Smoked whitefish! Beef sticks! Koeze peanut butter!), but it’s the cheesy highlights—a hunk of Marieke Penterman’s exceptional raw milk gouda and Potter’s Cheddar Oyster Crackers—that make it a fine addition to this list.
I can’t wait to swap out my usual wooden cheese board for this delicate green and pink stone plate. The finely carved Indian marble is sourced from Agra, Uttar Pradesh—home of the Taj Mahal. At seven inches, it’s the perfect size for serving individual small-format wheels like camembert, robiola, or vacherin Mont d’Or.
For the most discriminating cheese fanatic in your orbit, consider ordering a wheel of this rare Portuguese beauty. Coming almost exclusively from Extemadura, Spain and Portugal, thistle-renneted cheeses are an ancient and niche style coagulated with an enzyme derived from an artichoke-like wild plant. Typically made using goat or sheep’s milk, they start out with a bouncy, semi-soft texture which transforms, with age, into a luxurious, pudding-like consistency. Judite and Carlos Pinto make this award-winning and highly limited sheep’s milk version by hand in Lagares da Beira, in Portugal’s Serra de Estrela region. You can order it—as well as many other Portuguese specialty foods—from Portugalia in Fall River, Massachusetts.
While there are oodles of great new knife companies out there these days, I’m partial to the feel and style of Made In’s sleek French-made options. The brand occasionally partners with chefs and other culinary experts and I was delighted to see this numbered edition collab with the great Nancy Silverton. With the heft needed to cut into a wedge of parm, the blade is yet thin and sharp enough to slice soft and delicate wheels with equal precision. A marble Krion handle, pretty brass rivets, and a full tang lend this highly giftable tool its super-premium look and feel. (Pair it with an engraved Champagne saber if you’re feeling extra-fancy!)
I threw a raclette and fondue party in my apartment this month, which gave me the much-needed excuse to take one of Boska’s raclette lamps for a spin. The quarter-wheel “Quattro” model is quick and easy to assemble and an excellent size for home use and the heavy concrete base alleviated any of my previously held safety concerns about raclette-ing at home. A great gift for newlyweds, the après-ski set, or really anyone who likes to entertain in the wintertime.
Whenever I start describing this marvelous and crowd-pleasing cheese—formerly known as GranQueso, and long one of my favorites—someone always bristles at first mention of its cinnamon- and paprika-dusted rind. Please hear me out: this loosely Manchego-inspired cheese is no attempt to jump the pumpkin spice shark. The whiff of smoky spice emanating from its ruddy exterior is ever-so-faint; what really shines through is Canela’s nutty flavor and its delicate butterscotch notes reminiscent of a well-aged gouda. Pairing just as nicely with sweet cider as with single malt, you’ll want to add this one to your holiday party heavy rotation.
When my friend and fellow cheese obsessive Madison Trapkin came over recently to help me throw a party, she brought along some servingware from her personal collection, including a gorgeous Bordallo Pinheiro cabbageware platter. Since then, I’ve had my eye on the Portuguese ceramicist’s leafy retro line; in particular, this domed cheese tray, ideal for elegantly bringing a cheese course up to room temperature before making the great “reveal.”
Would that we were all lucky enough to have a spacious, top-of-the-line refrigerator with multiple, precisely controlled temperature and humidity zones for keeping ingredients at their absolute peak for as long as possible. One of these days! In the meantime, I’ve learned to make do with whichever basic models a string of New York City landlords have seen fit to supply me with. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at the state of my cheese!
Former cheesemonger and cheese educator Jessica Sennett invented the Cheese Grotto to replicate the atmosphere of commercial cheese-aging caves. An included clay brick, once soaked in cool, clean water, holds the interior of the Grotto—available in either birch or bamboo—at the steady 70–80% humidity considered optimal for storing aged cheeses. The Grotto can even be used for DIY home ripening. Just place small, uncut wheels like chèvre and camembert right on the shelf, close the plexiglass door, leave the Grotto out on your countertop, and let those happy microorganisms work their magic. A handy tool for cheese-lovers prone to over-shopping (Guilty as charged.), as well as those dabbling in home cheesemaking.
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