By Lori Powell
Cheese has come a long way. For years it seemed to exist in a land of extremes, either the cubes of Swiss and cheddar found in lunchboxes across America or those rarefied "exotic" varieties possessing long names and unclear uses. But that has all changed: Now many grocery stores boast terrific cheese counters with a wide variety of delicious -- and accessible -- choices and offer complimentary tastings for the cheese curious. With our guide you can now plan a cheese and wine party of your own that will delight guests. We've provided all the taste and serving tips, plus recipes for appetizers and desserts, that you will need to throw a successful, stress-free party -- and transform yourself into a cheese whiz, too.
How to Plan a Tasting
1. Find a cheese section with a depth of selection and knowledgeable staff who can describe a cheese's taste and texture to your satisfaction.
2. Select a theme. Our menu is perfect for beginners because it mixes different cheese textures, countries of origin, milk types, and ages. More advanced cheese tasters may wish to focus on one or two specific qualities, such as an all-sheep's-milk tasting or a comparison of blue cheeses.
3. For the eight cheeses in our tastings, we recommend serving guests 3/4- to 1-ounce portions of each cheese, the size of two generous bites. Serve fewer cheeses and 1/2-ounce portions if the tasting is part of a bigger meal.
4. When deciding in which order to serve the cheeses, a general guideline is to start with the milder, softer cheese and then progress to the stronger, riper ones.