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Easy Holiday Entertaining with Cheese

Wisconsin cheese and a few easy party food recipes can make you the rock star at any holiday event.

Beer bottles and a metal platter displaying a variety of cheese, sausage and crackers for beer and cheese pairings.metal platter displaying a variety of cheese, sausage and crackers for beer and cheese pairings.

As the holiday season approaches, the art of entertaining reaches new heights with the enchanting world of cheese. From cozy family gatherings to spirited soirées, there’s an undeniable magic in crafting a festive atmosphere that revolves around the rich and diverse flavors of cheese. Whether you’re a seasoned host or a first-time entertainer, the allure of assembling an exquisite cheese platter brings a touch of sophistication and warmth to any holiday party. Wisconsin, renowned for its exceptional cheese heritage, offers an abundance of artisanal delights to elevate your gatherings. Favorite Wisconsin cheesemakers include Sartori, Roth, Carr Valley, and Hook’s, to name a few.

This guide delves into the secrets of creating captivating cheese experiences that will leave your guests charmed, satisfied, and eagerly anticipating your next party. And, we can guarantee they will ask how you know so much about cheese!

Cheese can be served alone in small slices or chunks, on a pretty platter with fruit and crackers, rolled in nuts for a festive cheese ball, in a bubbly fondue, mixed in a savory dip and much, much more.

A wooden cheese board set with serving tools, an assortment of cheese, crackers, nuts, red napkins and a glass of white wine.

Crafting the Perfect Wisconsin Holiday Cheese Tray

Embrace Wisconsin’s holiday spirit and rich cheese heritage by crafting a captivating cheese tray that will leave a lasting impression on your guests. Let us guide you to curating a holiday cheese tray that beautifully showcases Wisconsin’s finest cheeses and offers a delightful culinary experience.

1. Selecting Your Cheeses:

Begin your cheese tray journey by selecting an assortment of cheeses that encompass the diverse flavors and textures of Wisconsin’s cheese offerings.

Start by curating a selection of cheeses that represent the breadth of Wisconsin’s cheese culture. Aim for a mix of textures, flavors, and milk types to provide a well-rounded experience. Here are some classic Wisconsin cheeses to consider:

  • Cheddar: Choose a range of cheddars, from mild to aged. Wisconsin cheddar is renowned for its sharpness and complexity.
  • Blue Cheese: Include a creamy and tangy blue cheese that adds a bold and distinctive element to your tray.
  • Swiss: Opt for a nutty and sweet Swiss cheese that balances out the flavors on the tray.
  • Gouda: Select a young and mild Gouda or a caramelized, aged Gouda for a touch of sweetness.
  • Havarti: This semi-soft cheese with buttery undertones is perfect for adding a milder, creamy option.
  • Monterey Jack: This cheese’s delicate creaminess makes it a versatile pairing option.
  • Soft Cheese: Incorporate a soft cheese like a Brie or Camembert for a contrasting texture.
Jumbo Cheese Trio on Marble Plate

2. Accompaniments and Pairings:

Complement your carefully chosen cheeses with an array of accompaniments that enhance and elevate their flavors. Present an assortment of plain and flavored crackers and slices of crusty baguette or artisanal bread. Elevate the visual appeal and taste with a medley of fresh and dried fruits, such as grapes, apples, pears, figs, and cranberries. Nuts like walnuts, almonds, and pecans provide a satisfying crunch that marries well with the rich cheeses. Add depth to the experience by including drizzles of local honey and spoonfuls of fruit preserves. For a touch of savory delight, arrange thinly sliced prosciutto, salami, or sausage.

3. Arranging the Cheese Tray:

A well-arranged cheese tray not only tantalizes the taste buds but also delights the eyes. Carefully consider the placement of each element to create an enticing visual presentation. Begin by artfully arranging the cheeses on the tray, varying their shapes and sizes to keep the arrangement visually engaging. Leave ample space between each cheese to allow for easy cutting and serving. Assemble the accompaniments in clusters around the cheeses, grouping similar items together for a harmonious effect. Add vibrant pops of color with fruits, nuts, and jams, and incorporate sprigs of rosemary or thyme to infuse a touch of greenery into the arrangement.

4. Serving and Enjoying:

To ensure your cheese tray experience is as delightful as possible, consider a few important factors when serving and enjoying:

Prior to serving, remove the cheeses from the refrigerator approximately 30 minutes in advance. Allowing them to come to room temperature enhances the full spectrum of their flavors.

Enhance the cheese-tasting experience by offering a selection of wines that complement the cheese varieties. Reds pair wonderfully with bold cheeses, while whites are an excellent choice for milder options.

Guide your guests through the tasting experience by suggesting they start with the mildest cheese and gradually progress to the strongest. This approach ensures that the unique flavors of each cheese shine and are appreciated to the fullest.

Crafting a holiday cheese tray that celebrates the exquisite flavors of Wisconsin’s cheeses is a culinary endeavor that delights the senses and brings people together. This season, let the flavors and textures of Wisconsin cheese take center stage and create a memorable tradition that adds a touch of elegance to your festive celebrations.

Cheddar, Blue cheese, Cranberry cheese, and Red-wax Gouda cheese tied with a bow, displayed with red grapes.

Not Your Mother’s Cheese Ball

While you may have fond memories of traditional cheese balls of yore, check out new flavor combinations that will ignite your taste buds. Here are two cheeseball recipes to add to your entertaining repertoire.

This recipe for a Bacon & Cheddar Cheese Ball is a showstopper that serves 12 and features sharp Cheddar. In addition to crackers, also serve it with crisp apple slices, which add a sweet element to the salty tang of the cheese ball.

On Yummly.com, readers have curated an entire section devoted to cheese balls. Here’s a recipe that uses blue cheese. To make both of the cheese balls listed here, order the Master Trio Cheese Gift Combo, including sharp Cheddar, creamy blue cheese, and buttery Swiss cheese.

Serve your delectable cheeseball with an enticing array of assortments from crackers and sliced baguette to fresh vegetables like carrot and celery sticks, fruits such as grapes and apple slices, nuts, dried fruits, and olives. Consider adding cured meats like prosciutto, mustards, honey, or fruit preserves for a sweet-savory touch, and a variety of spreads and dips like hummus or olive tapenade. Include fresh herbs and additional cheeses to create a well-rounded and visually appealing spread that perfectly complements the creamy richness of the cheeseball.

A white ceramic tub of white cheese fondue with a fondue fork dipping a chunk of bread.

Wisconsin Trio Fondue Recipe

If you really want to flex some cheese muscle with a dish that is sure to impress, make a Wisconsin cheese trio fondue! Combine Creamy Cheddar, Smoky Gouda, and Tangy Blue Cheese for a combination sure to delight!

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz Wisconsin Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
  • 8 oz Wisconsin Smoked Gouda Cheese, shredded
  • 4 oz Wisconsin Blue Cheese, crumbled
  • 1 clove garlic, halved
  • 1 cup dry white wine (such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon kirsch (cherry brandy), optional
  • A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Assorted dippables: cubed crusty bread, blanched broccoli florets, sliced apples, cooked sausage or ham cubes, pretzel bites, and cooked new potatoes

Instructions:

  1. Begin by rubbing the inside of a fondue pot or heavy saucepan with the cut sides of the garlic clove. This imparts a subtle garlic flavor to the pot.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch with the lemon juice until smooth. This mixture will help prevent the cheese from becoming too stringy.
  3. Pour the white wine into the fondue pot and heat it over medium-low heat until it simmers gently. It’s important not to let it boil, as that can cause the cheese to separate.
  4. Gradually add the shredded Wisconsin Sharp Cheddar and Smoked Gouda cheeses to the wine, stirring constantly in a figure-eight motion until the cheese is melted and smooth.
  5. Once the cheese is melted, sprinkle in the crumbled Wisconsin Blue Cheese and continue stirring until it’s fully incorporated into the mixture.
  6. Stir in the cornstarch and lemon juice mixture, which will help stabilize the fondue and ensure a creamy consistency.
  7. If using, add the kirsch (cherry brandy) and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, both of which enhance the flavor profile of the fondue.
  8. Adjust the heat to keep the fondue warm, but not boiling. If the fondue becomes too thick, you can add a little more wine to achieve the desired consistency.

Place the fondue pot on a fondue stand or trivet at the center of your serving area. Arrange the assorted dippables around the pot for easy access.

Limburger Spread

Indulge in Holiday Cheese Dips

During the holidays, hot cheese dips are a diet buster because they are incredibly addictive. But hey, the holidays only come around once a year…

The Food Network’s “Our Best Holiday Party Dips” features a yummy Gouda-inspired “Gouda-And-Beer Fondue Bread Bowl” that can be served with bread and fruit, like luscious holiday pears, or even slices of cooked bratwurst.

A crowd-pleasing Cheese Dip developed by a blogger of The Budget Diet says this recipe is her go-to party food “that will make you famous!” One online reviewer said to always use a strong, flavorful cheese for best results, like sharp or aged Cheddar and aged Swiss cheese.

A southern Hot Pimento Cheese Dip recipe from Add A Pinch blog combines shredded Cheddar cheese with chopped pimentos, two types of mustard, salt, pepper and chopped jalapeños for an extra kick. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips and watch it disappear!

A pairings flight of four cheese varieties with glasses and mugs of mulled cider, red wine, and two kinds of beer.

Cheese Pairings that Please

Want to find perfect cheese pairing suggestions? The Wisconsin Cheeseman’s cheese pairing chart provides suggestions for wines, beers, spirits, and foods that taste best with every type of cheese they sell.

Speaking of pairings, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board has created an extensive list of cheese appetizers with appealing photos featuring “Picks & Bites” with cheese. Check out these ideas for holiday entertaining because you’re guaranteed to find a clever combo to try at your next holiday party.

They also have a fantastic and informative online magazine devoted to the many ways to use Wisconsin Cheese called “Grate. Pair. Share.” Holiday entertaining with cheese is a popular topic, and you will find all sorts of on-trend recipes for appetizers, cheese plates, entrées, side dishes, and desserts—all made with several kinds of Wisconsin cheese.

Two fondue pots of white cheese and chocolate for dipping bread chunks, berries, and banana slices with fondue forks.

Discover Holiday Desserts with Cheese

In Europe, a cheese course is often served as dessert. But here in the U.S., we’ve developed even more recipes beyond cheesecake that take Wisconsin cheese to another level of indulgence. Here’s yet another chance to share cheese knowledge with the uninitiated.

Dazzle & delight with complimentary white cheese and chocolate fondue. Or, bake up a batch of Rosemary Blue Cheese Icebox Cookies for a savory take on a holiday cookie.

Did you know Brie cheese is made in Wisconsin as well as France? Here’s a special holiday dessert to serve after Christmas dinner Brie & Brandied Apricot Hand Pies.

Help educate cheese lovers about Wisconsin cheese by using a cheese marker or a homemade notecard to write out which cheese is featured on a cheese plate, melted in a dip or mixed in a cheese ball…because people will certainly ask you for details and recipes at the party.

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