By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop of Centerbrook
Traditions are the things you look forward to year after year. The holidays are here once again, and in my world that means it is time once again for fondue, raclette, cheese trays and the gift of cheese for family and friends. And, of course, I will watch A Christmas Carol for the hundredth time. I still like the old black and white Allister Simms version.
Thankfully, for me at least, cheese is still the number one appetizer and snack for all occasions. It also ranks pretty high for festive dinners and desserts. It is hard to beat a bubbling hot pot of Fondue on a cold wintery night when in sight of a cozy, hot fireplace. Add a glass of wine, a few snowflakes, and you might find yourself singing one of my favorite songs:
Cheese Shop White Christmas
I’m dreaming of my own Cheese Shop
Just like the one I work in now
Where the cheese is selling
The place is smelling
And sweat is pouring from my brow
Cheese Shop Jingle Bells
Dashing through the store, with Bremners in one hand
Hurry get the mop, I just spilled some Boursin
All the Brie looks great, in fact, some I just ate
Hurry up and clean the counter, or we’ll leave here late
Oh, Emmenthal, Camembert, Brie and Coulomier (cool-um-yay)
One of these will be on special each and every day
Perhaps I’ve had one too many Christmas Eves in the Cheese Business…
Did I mention that if you eat a little Oma, the washed rind cheese from the Trappe Family in Vermont, you will sing the above songs much better?
This is a traditional must for my family. Fondue, which is considered a gourmet delight today, started out as a Swiss peasant meal. It was a way to use up stale bread, dried out cheese and wine that had been opened too long. I enjoy the traditional Swiss recipe which combines Swiss cheeses Emmenthal, Gruyere, and Appenzeller with white wine, a little garlic, a little flour or arrowroot and Kirsch Liquor, if you like. When heated, dip in a piece of bread and feast away. For my traditional 40-year old recipe, visit the Recipes page of my website (www.cheeseshopofcenterbrook.com). By the way, uneaten fondue need not be thrown away. When cool, place the remainder in a freezer-safe storage bag and freeze. When heated again, it will taste like you just made it. And see if you can find a store near you that will grate the cheese fresh for you. This will make meal time much easier and allow more time for singing cheese songs.
Whether you are making a traditional Swiss raclette (cheese, potatoes, cornichons) or the American version (which can also include shrimp, chicken, sausage, vegetables, etc.), raclette is a great dish. All the elements are prepared in advance so you can enjoy the meal with friends and family. If a raclette grill is not counted among your kitchen gadgets, some retailers rent them. We enjoy this type of cookery all year long. You might find us grilling shrimp and scallops during a hot summer night, but raclette is especially festive for the holidays.
The classic cheese tray is always a great way to enjoy the parties the holidays bring. Their advance preparation saves you precious party time. Cheese trays are always a hit and usually the first appetizer to disappear.
Wondering what to choose for your cheese tray? Try to vary your selection by choosing cheeses from different families. This way you are sure to make everyone happy. In addition, bring in specialty treats such as fruits, balsamic vinegars, honey, chutneys, nuts, etc. This makes a cheese tray more festive and colorful.
If you prepare your own trays, I advise against placing crackers in with the cheese ahead of time. Wait until serving time to open the crackers so they stay crisp. I also never recommend pre-cutting or cubing cheese, which usually results in quickly dried-up cheese and lost flavor. I recommend leaving cheese wedges whole and intact; just remove the side rinds. This way, leftovers will keep for another day.
Gift Boxes and Baskets
These are a universal favorite. Gift baskets and boxes make wonderful gifts that rarely go to waste. If the recipient happens not to be fond of cheese, someone else in the family or holiday guests are bound to. When purchasing these items, try to include a good variety of flavors. A mix of crackers, meats, etc. works well. One important consideration is the condition or ripeness of the cheeses. You would not want to buy a brie or camembert, for example, with a shelf life shorter than when you plan to give the gift. It is always a good idea to discuss your needs with your retailer at time of purchase.
~ Happy Holidays from all of us at the Cheese Shop