You can thank us right now for the toil and tribulation we had to endure in order to provide this post for your holiday inspiration. First, we had to taste-test a vast number of sinfully creamy cheeses, searching for the ideal threesome. Then we had to quickly photograph our perfect symphony of fromage before it oozed all over the platter, and then we even had to eat our props at the end … oh, the things we are willing to do for our beloved cyber friends!
While all the artists of Cathy Heck Studio were in Austin for Thanksgiving, we decided to head out on a mission to introduce our blog buddies to our new favorite local cheese shop, Antonelli’s. First, we asked Julianna to create some festive labels for the fancy cheeses we would be procuring. Our only stipulation was that the labels be small enough so as not to overshadow the natural beauty of the holiday cheeses, and printable so that our blog friends could print them for their own holiday tables. They are easy to assemble. Here is the link (it’s free!) so that you can make them, too. Just cut, tape back to back (so they look good on both sides) to colorful toothpicks and tie with raffia or baker’s string. Voila! Festive Fromage!
[br] We even included some animal markers to affix to the tops if you would like to let your guests know which cheeses are made from the milk of cows, goats or sheep. We did not think to include a buffalo head, and indeed ended up choosing a buffalo milk cheese, so we just buffalo-ized the sheep head. Feel free to improvise.
Our next task was to head over to Antonelli’s to taste some cheeses. Well, all right, if we must.
[br] I shall digress for just a moment just so you know our cheese history: I grew up in a small West Texas town where we did not have a shop just for cheeses. My experience with cheese was cheddar for nachos and monterey jack for fancy nachos. So, when we moved to New York as young newlyweds, and discovered a shop just for cheeses in our neighborhood, we were like kids in a candy shop. Our cheese monger took us under his wing and gave us tips and tastes. He taught us to pronounce Gouda as “how-da” … as in “Howda Dooda Gooda,” which is what we call it to this day. I know, it’s goofy … but we were cheese-challenged and had much to learn. But now, although we may not be cheese experts, we do appreciate a good triple creme Camembert.
[br] And, since we are not authorities, we were delighted to learn about our little cheese shop in Austin’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Photos below by Ellen: Here we are in Antonelli’s where the staff was as friendly as the cheeses were aromatic. Our expert was Kara, and she was knowledgeable and delightful. One of our favorite services offered by Antonelli’s is that they create a personal Cheese Log just for you … a list of cheeses which you purchased earlier. You don’t even have to remember the name of that amazing buttery Brie that you served at the last party. When we arrived, Kara pulled up our list, asked which were our favorites, then asked us about the foods that our cheeses would be complementing. Then she began mixing and matching like an artist with a palette ranging from soft to semi-soft to almost crunchy. They will even suggest wine pairings. Nice. With a taste of this and a bite of that, we narrowed our choices to the three perfect cheese offerings described below.
Here are our final winners (this time) starting top left clockwise (I have included links just in case you don’t live near Antonelli’s): 1) Chevre d’Or: I like to start with the most decadent and then calm down from there. This is a magnificent soft-ripened goat’s milk cheese from the Centre region of France. Okay, I admit that it looks a little bit like a brain, but with our dressy holiday tag, your guests will be able to look past that, especially once they have one taste of this creamy heaven. It’s best paired with champagne, by the way. 2) Quadrello di Bufala: (which I misspelled on my label, but I’m guessing it was unnoticed by my guests) The style of this cheese is called Washed Rind. It was created by two brothers who inherited a cattle ranch and turned it into a water buffalo dairy. If you can’t find this buf version, you might try Taleggio, which is the cow milk version known as the King of Italian Washed Rinds. (Now that’s a mighty title if ever I heard one.)
3) Castelvetrano Olives: We had tried these bright green jewels the last time we were at Antonelli’s, and not only were they tasty, but we thought they would add a perfect Christmas green for your holiday plating! They are also milder than most and so appeal to a wide range of tastes. 4) Boucher Blue: Not only do we like to consider different tastes, but we also like to offer a variety of texture and color, so a nice chunky blue cheese with some lovely marbling is a perfect act to round out our holiday show. This particular blue is smooth, creamy and mild, and we were told that it displays undertones of chestnuts and truffles. Truffles? What? (Did I mention that truffle oil is on my Christmas Wish List. Just sayin’ in case Santa is reading this.)
So there you have it–a Holiday Cheese Board that will start your party off to a cheesy bang. And, speaking of Santa, I’ve heard that Mrs. C might be joining Santa on his journey this year, and that she actually prefers a lovely cheese plate with a nice wine pairing over cookies and milk. (I’m pretty sure the elves over at Antonelli’s will know the perfect ensemble for the Mrs.)
By the way, if you are able to make it over to Antonelli’s, they actually sell more than cheese. Be sure to pick up a crusty baguette and the perfect wine, or even a chunk of honeycomb or a jar of cajeta goat milk caramel (oh my gosh). I had better bring this post to an end before I start drooling all over my keyboard.
Happy Holidays from the Studio Fromage-ifiles.