The Cheese Course as Dessert
Sometimes shaking it up a little bit is the exact thing that is needed. You don’t always have to end the meal with something baked and sweet. In many areas of Europe the mail meal is followed by a cheese course and I figured it was high time that we examined the Cheese Course as Dessert here at Bakepedia. When I am in France, in particular, and come across this tradition I never feel wanting for sweets. Rather I am entranced by the array of cheeses and dive in with gusto and a sense of adventure.
In our opinion the best cheese course provides choices. It’s almost like a sweet tray of mignardises. Now, there are similarities to presenting a dessert cheese display and creating one as an appetizer, but there are differences as well. If intended to precede the meal, I will often include other savory items such as charcuterie and olives, cornichons and perhaps some grainy mustard. When I am gathering cheeses for a dessert course I think a bit sweeter. In addition to the cheeses I will add fruit, both fresh and dried, and perhaps some nuts. When it comes to the cheeses, that’s where the similarities reign.
Sometimes I will present an array of goat cheeses from fresh, to semisoft, to aged and firm. Or do the same with sheep or cow as the milk source. More often than not I select an array of varied textures and also vary the milk source. So a fresh goat cheese might be next to an aged sheep cheese and so on. I like to have a raw milk selection and always something very pungent like a blue – they pair so well with fruit from fresh pears to dried grapes. The dried grapes on the vine in the image(see below) are from Earthy Delights and they are always a conversation starter. Ultra-creamy double and triple crème cheeses are most welcomed during a dessert course and one of our favorites is Fromager d’Affinois. Here we offered a garlic and herb version as a more savory option.
Here we are showing Laura Chenel’s Original Log Goat Cheese. Back in the early 1980s Laura began a mission to bring fresh goat cheeses to the masses and hers were the first we enjoyed that were US produced. This log is always popular. It is mild and creamy and always consistent. We topped it with a Maple Blueberry Compote.
The round in the front is a bit of a departure. It is a vegan almond milk “cheese” from Kite Hill. They have soft, ricotta-like cheeses as well as this semi-soft product.
The lovely wedge in the front with the ribbon of vegetable ash is an aged goat – Humboldt Fog. Guests always ask about the demarcation beneath the rind; it is a natural occurrence with this cheese as it ages.
For the blue on the left I went local – to me, anyway. This is Great Hill Blue made with raw unhomogenized milk in Marion, MA. If you are lucky enough to live near cheese producers, this is a nice touch.
For the dessert cheese course I always include a plain and simple baguette. I leave the rosemary scented and olive loaves for appetizers. The one exception is a nutty bread or a bread featuring dried fruit, like the cranberry walnut pictured. These can work quite well with the dessert course. We added some gluten-free crackers to our basket, too.
You could consider serving a small simple salad. Perhaps with a mixture of greens, including some bitter greens such as arugula and frisee. A simple olive oil vinaigrette won’t overpower the cheeses. I have always been a fan of salad later in the meal.
As for amount of cheese, it can vary depending on how rich the preceding meal was, and can range from anywhere from ½-ounce to 2 ounces per person per cheese. It also depends on the number of cheeses. The thing with cheese, however, is that leftovers are always nice to have, so I like to be generous with my purchasing. I wouldn’t necessarily by a pricey cheese for an omelet, but if I have it I use it and breakfast the next day is heavenly.
Temperature is very important! Cheeses must be room temperature. Soft cheeses should be spilling forth from their rinds…the flavors will be at their best. I cannot over state this. Give your cheeses several hours at room temperature.
In addition to the grapes and strawberries and candied pecans we chose you could offer fresh figs and have a small jar of honey available for drizzling. Steer clear of citrus, though, which does nothing to enhance the cheeses.
You can recommend to your guests to begin with the milder cheeses, like the Laura Chenel goat, and proceed to the more robust, ending with the blue. Personally, I just dive in and hop around and eat to my heart and palate’s content.
As for display, we like to use large pieces of slate or natural stone. A wooden cheese board can work well, too.
Dessert wines such as a tokai, late harvest gewurztraminer, sauternes or a Moscato d’Asti would be a nice addition, or consider a sherry such as Pedro Ximenez. Sweet beers could work as well.
I hope this has given you some food for thought and next time you are planning dessert, why not think cheese.