Cheddar, Gruyere, Brie, Stilton. The lists of cheeses that exist is nearly as great as the adoration they garner. This salty, complex and protein-rich food has its place at tables all over the globe, and frankly that’s all “gouda” with us, and probably for someone you know, too.
Liz Thorpe, an author, cheese expert and turophile extraordinaire, told HuffPost why this ubiquitous and tasty treat has persisted for so long in the diets of millions.
“Ask people about cheese and they think of gooey, melty, snacky, cozy foods from the time they were little. Your body is evolutionarily designed to love cheese as a high-fat, high-protein, mineral-rich food. Your lizard brain knows more of this is power food for your body,” Thorpe said. “But at its most fundamental, I’d suggest that people love cheese because there is an insane variety of flavor and nearly everyone can find at least one cheese they think is delicious.”
Thorpe also noted the broader significance that cheese plays and the ways in which it is truly representative of a region’s specific culture, history and industry.
“Cheese is hugely significant in human culture broadly, and in specific country’s and region’s cultures more narrowly. All of the major styles of cheese we know today evolved in very specific geographic and cultural conditions. As a result, eating a certain kind of cheese is like stepping through a window in time,” Thorpe said.
Kendall Antonelli, owner of the iconic Antonelli’s Cheese Shop in Austin, Texas, reminded us that cheese is universal and requires no prerequisites in order to be enjoyed, namely because of its modest origin.
“While cheese has (problematically) been portrayed as some elite, bougie food, the truth is that cheese is by, for and of the people. Historically, turning milk into cheese was a way to preserve an important protein source, avoiding spoilage and waste, while also guaranteeing a nutrient-rich food in fall and winter seasons when dairy animals weren’t milking,” Antonelli said.
So what are the makings of great cheese?
Carlos Yescas, a cheese advocate who founded the Lacteo Network in order to bring awareness to Latin American cheesemakers, says it’s all in the milk.
“Good milk. Not only does it have to have good amounts of fat and protein, it also needs to be clear of pathogens and taste delicious. If the cheese is bland, it probably came from poor quality milk. I prefer cheese made with raw milk, which not only tastes good, but there is also complexity of flavors,” Yescas said.
According Thorpe, a good cheese is a balanced one in terms of taste, accompanied by other lingering flavors whether they be nutty, mushroomy or creamy. But most importantly, “A great cheese is one you think is great. So to all the spray cheese lovers out there, you do you,” Thorpe said.
Whether your idea of cheese consumption is a comforting bowl of homemade mac and cheese or a sophisticated evening of wine and cheese pairings, it’s clear that this unifying substance is a harbinger of enjoyment no matter what its form.
With the help of these knowledgeable cheese experts/lovers, we created a list of “mould”-breaking gifts that can help you or someone you know enjoy their cheese that much more.
The “Mercedes-Benz” of cheese storage
Tenaya Darlington, aka Madame Fromage, is a cheese influencer, blogger and author of a cheese book that guides readers through recipes, pairings and a brief history of cheese. Darlington previously recommended to HuffPost a cheese grotto as an elevated way to store cheese while minimizing packaging waste.
“My Mercedes-Benz of cheese, if there is such a thing, is a cheese grotto for storing cheese. If I have a lot of cheese in the house, I pop them into the Cheese Grotto and slide the whole thing into the fridge. The Grotto keeps them moist and cool, and it’s a divine display when people come over,” Darlington said.
People with limited counter or cabinet space can rest easy, because this particular cheese vault is fully collapsable so you can easily store it when not in use.
Get it from Goldune for $85.
A gift card to this iconic cheese shop with locations all across the country
Thorpe told HuffPost that “when you splurge on cheese you’re likely helping a cheesemaker pay their milk makers a living wage; supporting more sustainable farming; paying for the work of making cheese in smaller batches by hand; buying a longer-aged cheese; getting something limited or seasonal; helping family farms; prioritizing craft and experience over scale and efficiency.”
Murray’s Cheese is a great place to splurge on your favorite cheeses and discover new options while also supporting the special craft of artisan cheese making.
Get a gift card from Murray’s Cheese for $50+.
Two necessary books for those serious about their cheese
“Cheese-related things I think are necessary include a few good cheese books,” Thorpe told HuffPost. In particular, one for cheese referencing and one for pairing.
“The Art of the Cheese Plate” offers clear direction on how to make elegant cheese boards with inspired accompaniments while also gaining a better understanding of how to taste cheese.
“The Oxford Companion to Cheese” is an encyclopedic endeavor that covers the long and expansive history of cheese, its chemistry and how to identify all cheeses globally and locally.
Thorpe also has her own book that guides its readers to discovering new cheeses that they will thoroughly enjoy.
Get “The Art of the Cheese Plate” from Amazon for $17.29.
Get “The Oxford Companion to Cheese” from Amazon for $45.38.
A raclette cheese melter to get the makings of the traditional Swiss dish
“My favorite cheese apparatus is a quarter-wheel raclette machine . There are various versions out there, but we love our Boska ones. There’s no replacement for melting a 4- to 5-pound chunk of cheese under a broiler while seated at the comfort of your table. Mimicking the tradition of melting raclette cheese fireside and scraping it onto a plate of potatoes, cornichon pickles and maybe some cured meats, this is my fave cheese-y dining experience,” said Antonelli, who also hosts raclette cheese nights at Antonelli’s Cheese House.
This industrially designed raclette machine from Boska uses a ceramic cap that effectively directs heat onto the cheese surface to create that desirable, ooey gooey texture.
Get it from Amazon for $179.99.
A microplane slicer for cutting all kinds of cheese
Thorpe told HuffPost that in her opinion, a microplane is her most essential cheese tool. This one from Boska features a precision-crafted blade that has a sharpened upper edge and a quilted pattern to prevent soft cheeses from sticking and hard cheeses from rolling up.
Get it from Williams Sonoma for $24.95.
A nutty-sweet gin to pair with your cheese
“A cheese board with mixed drinks is a no-brainer, and I wish more cocktail bars would develop cheese pairing menus. I’m a gin fiend, and if I’m home in the evening, I love fixing a French 75 or a Bee’s Knees with Barr Hill Gin. It’s made in Vermont, from local honey, and there’s just a hint of nutty-sweet beeswaxiness. It’s gorgeous with pretty much any cheese. Sometimes I just drink it on the rocks with a lemon twist and a hunk of young pecorino,” Darlington said.
Get it from Flaviar for $34.99.
A subscription of wines to pair with your cheese
If you’re not a gin drinker, wine can be the next best palate partner when it comes to eating cheeses. This monthly wine subscription from Firstleaf is delivered right to your front door and can actually be more cost effective than stocking up on bottles of wine from the grocery store. Complete a quiz to help determine your wine preferences and then Firstleaf curates a box which you can rate to help the company determine what kinds of wines should be included in future orders.
Get it from Firstleaf for $39.95 for six bottles per month.
A stash of reusable silicone bags to store your cheese
Thorpe suggested having a lot of Ziplock baggies on hand for storing your cheese in the fridge, and these reusable food-grade silicone baggies by Stasher can be a great waste-free substitute. They are also dishwasher and microwave safe, so cleaning up any greasy residue that your delicious Parm left behind is no problem.
Get it from Stasher for $65.09.
Wax-coated cheese paper to keep the goods fresh
To keep your cheese safe from drying out in the fridge, Yescas recommended good quality cheese paper, which you can wrap your cheese in like the perfect little gift that it is.
“Once you get your cheese from the store, get it out of the plastic, and wrap it again in cheese paper. This will help your cheese to stay good for longer. Make sure you wrap the cheese well — you don’t want any air getting in there and drying your cheese — and make sure to only buy as much as you would in about 10 days,” Yescas told HuffPost.
Get 30 sheets from Amazon for $17.50.
A marble cheese dome to ripen soft cheeses
“When I first entered the cheese lifestyle as a blogger, I bought a cheese dome with a marble base from a tiny cheese shop down the street from my house in Philadelphia. It’s still one of my favorite tools,” Darlington said of this French kitchen marble cheese dome from Crate & Barrel. “The marble base keeps cheese cool, and the glass dome holds in humidity. I like to buy a funky washed rind or a bloomy Brie style and set it under the dome to ripen on the counter for a day or two in cool weather. Few things are better than a mattress-soft cheese with a little fresh fruit and a cocktail for supper.”
Get it from Crate & Barrel for $59.95.
A rustic and handmade cheese board
“Most of the cheeses I love are still made by hand, and I like to serve them with other handmade things,” Darlington said.
This handmade rustic board is completely unique; each has a different structure and texture. It’s made from olive wood, which can be a more hygienic surface for serving and preparing foods. You also have the option to personalize your board with the seller.
Get it from Deepearthsource at Etsy for $63.13+.
A perfect set of mini bowls for jams, spreads and honey
“There’s nothing I love more than a beautiful cheese board surrounded by bowls of nuts, honey, jams and olives,” Darlington told HuffPost.
These Puebla condiment bowls from Pottery Barn are produced in Mexico using glazed stoneware. Each bowl is hand painted and the perfect size to be filled with all kinds of accompaniments to your cheese board.
Get a set of four from Pottery Barn for $27.
A seven-piece set of French cheese knives
“Most of my cheese knives come from thrift stores and flea markets. In France, I got turned on to Laguiole cheese knives, which are stunning. I always carry a Laguiole cheese spreader in my bag — it’s like a favorite pen,” Darlington said.
This set of Laguiole blue ivory and stainless steel cheese knives contains everything you need to cut, spread and slice every kind of cheese from super soft Camembert to hard Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Get it from Amazon for $29.
Cheese-themed kitchen towels to wipe your hands on while you eat cheese