Saturday, August 7, 2010

Food and Wine to Pair with Cheddar Cheese & Curds

There are many varieties of Cheddar cheese, varying in strength. There is very mild, milky Cheddar, which has a smooth and creamy texture. This is a lovely, simple, everyday sort of cheese, perfect on crackers, sandwiches, or on a cheese board with other, richer varieties. Moving up the scale the cheese becomes slightly sharper, with a tangy taste that makes your mouth water. This one is well accompanied with pickles, to bring out the tang. Then we move on to even more mature varieties of Cheddar cheese. Some of these are an acquired taste, as they can be very heavy, but are delicious with the right wine and bread as an accompaniment.

Cheddar cheese curds are very similar, although they are not mature like full cheese. These ‘cheese nibbles’ are very versatile as they can be eaten alone, with crackers or biscuits, or mixed into casseroles, pasta dishes, potato bakes, and a whole host of other recipes. The curds can be frozen so they make a handy ingredient to keep at home, as you can get them in different mixtures, including things like herbs, JalapeƱos, garlic, or bacon, which will add a nice touch to a bland meal, or a recipe that is lacking something.

Wine is most usually associated with cheese, along with images of a nice big cheese board surrounded by delicious fruits. To choose the right variety of wine to compliment the flavor of Cheddar is traditionally viewed as quite a precise art. There are generally three main varieties of Cheddar cheese: mild, which is aged for two to three months, and is smooth and creamy to taste; medium, which has a slight tang but is still a nice ‘everyday’ cheese; and then there is sharp and extra sharp, varieties which are aged for one year or longer, and are something of an acquired taste, or a variety to be savored on special occasions.

The best wines to accompany hard cheeses are usually red. A strong flavor of cheese generally needs a full-bodied flavor to compliment it. Wines such as Bordeaux, Cabernet and Merlot are recommended. Alternatively there are some white wines that taste lovely alongside Cheddar cheese. These are varieties such as Sauternes, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and even Champagne! To add a further twist to your beverage, you may like to try Sherry or Port with your Cheddar cheese. If wine isn't your usual drink then a pint of beer, cask ale, or lager works just as well.

Cheddar cheese is best served at room temperature and removed from the refrigerator at least thirty minutes before being eaten. The fruits that accompany it best are apples, pears, melons and grapes. When serving as a dessert, sweeter varieties of Cheddar are appropriate, served with fruit, figs, and a drizzling of honey or pecan praline for a touch of luxury. It is best served with sweet dark breads and biscuits, and a vintage Port, fruity Moscato wine, or crisp, chilled white wines.

There are other ways to incorporate Cheddar cheese into everyday eating, however. A classic favorite for BBQ's, parties and buffets, is to serve the cheese cut into cubes and mounted on cocktail sticks with cubes of pineapple. This is a great pairing due to the contrast of the smooth, creamy taste, with something a little acidic and tangy. A radical alternative might even be cheese with strawberries! Imagine smooth, creamy, mild Cheddar, with the sharp, sweet tang of strawberry. Delicious! Or a simple recipe is Cheddar cheese on toast with tomatoes. A medium to sharp variety works well for this. You simply toast your bread lightly on both sides, and then add the cheese and freshly chopped tomatoes, with a few herbs if desired, to one side. Grill them on a moderate heat for around 10 minutes and you have a delicious snack!

Cheddar is very versatile at any meal. How about for breakfast you try Pita Pockets? These are scrambled egg whites mixed with shredded Cheddar cheese, chopped mushrooms, onions and peppers, stuffed into toasted halves of pita bread. You simply wrap the pita in foil and away you go – breakfast on the go! Cheddar Cheese Curds can also be incorporated in breakfast meals. Bacon and Chive curds will be a great accompaniment to sausages, hash browns, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms and baked beans. Wash it down with a good cup of coffee or English tea and you have a hearty meal to set you up for the day! Alternatively, plain or Dill Cheddar Cheese Curds will work nicely, especially for a Vegetarian breakfast or brunch.

Are you having a film night, a friendly get-together, or a social occasion where snacks are required? Well you could try a Savory Cheddar Snack Mix. This is quite simply chopped Cheddar cheese of any strength (or Cheddar Curds also), mixed in a bowl with salty pretzels and popcorn. You could make burritos with flour tortillas, using scrambled eggs, salsa, and medium Cheddar cheese or Cheddar cheese curds. These are an ideal party snack, or perfect for school lunch boxes or picnics.

A delicious savory meal is Cheddar cheese with macaroni. You can simply add the cheese to the macaroni with a little cheese sauce to moisten it, or you could also add some herbs and chopped spring onions for extra flavor. The stronger, more mature Cheddar varieties work well with this recipe, as the macaroni balances the sharp taste. Serve it up with chunks of warm crusty bread and butter, and a lovely glass of red wine, and you have a lovely, warming meal.

Now for something a little more unusual! Cheddar was traditionally served during the medieval era in Britain, as part of the great dinner feasts. It would be cut into large chunks, and the dinner guests would help themselves to a pile of cheese, crusty bread wedges, apples, grapes, and the beverage of choice was Ale served in wooden goblets. This would make for a fun, simple and tasty dinner party! You could even host it as a costume party for added effect!

-Written by Catherine Green

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