Cheese could very well have been part of the original Thanksgiving celebration. Make it part of yours with an all-American Thanksgiving cheese plate.
We know: cheese isn’t the first thing on the minds of most people when discussing Thanksgiving dinner. There’s the entrée (which for most is turkey, but we’re open to other options), the cranberry sauce, the pumpkin pie…is there even room for cheese? If you like cheese as we do—and since you’re reading this, chances are you do—you make room. Besides, it’s very likely cheese was a part of the earliest Thanksgiving dinners. So why not celebrate this truly American holiday with a sampling of great American cheeses? Here are some tips for creating the perfect Thanksgiving cheese platter.
Pairing Cheese with Wine for Thanksgiving
First, you want the cheeses to go with what you’re serving. No, not the entrée or side dishes—the cheese will be served separately (more on that later). Instead, let’s focus on matching your Thanksgiving cheese platter to the wine you’re serving…which, after all, was chosen with the food in mind. (Right?) So let’s choose the wine.
Since the majority of families serve turkey for Thanksgiving, we’ll start there. The overwhelming choice of restaurant wine stewards (sommeliers) to serve with turkey is pinot noir. Yes, it’s a red wine, and yes, we know turkey breast is white meat. Doesn’t matter: pinot noir is high in acidity, low in tannins, and perfect with turkey and all those sides. If you want white, options abound. Just keep that buttery, oaky chardonnay in the wine rack; it’s one of the worst with all those herby, savory, tangy accompaniments, and isn’t really that great with turkey itself. You’re better off with an off-dry white that has some residual sugar, like a riesling, gewürztraminer, or grüner veltliner. Sparkling whites like Champagne or prosecco are also excellent; in fact, they are among the most adaptable to foods. And pinot noir isn’t your only red choice, either; many sommeliers love to recommend fruity reds like zinfandel or grenache.
So what if you’re not a fan of turkey and would rather serve a nice Thanksgiving ham? Not a problem! It turns out that the wines we mentioned above—pinot noir and off-dry riesling—are perfect with ham. So let’s use those two as a starting point for building our Thanksgiving cheese plate. Now, what else to consider?
Buy American Cheese and Wine
As we mentioned, Thanksgiving is a purely American celebration…so it only makes sense to honor the roots of this holiday by selecting American wine and cheese. And we can give thanks for the fact that there are some really excellent pinots and rieslings made here in America. The state of Washington is especially good for riesling, and neighboring Oregon is renowned for its pinot noirs. Needless to say, California also grows both.
So what do you serve with that Oregon pinot noir or Washington riesling? Luckily, there are many amazing original American cheeses that will go with either and be great additions to your Thanksgiving cheese platter.
While many red wines can be difficult to pair with cheese because of all those tannins, pinot noir is probably the most food-friendly—and cheese-friendly—red. Pinot noir works and plays well with alpine-style cheeses (including Swiss), Asiago, pungent blues, and semi-soft smoothies like Havarti or Muenster.
Now how about that riesling? Well, as luck would have it, the pairing list is nearly identical. There are some minor variances, but mostly common ground. So let’s narrow down our cheeses to four or five selections. Appearing on both lists are Asiago, blue, Muenster, and Swiss. Cheddar is high on the list for riesling, but only a minor match for pinot noir. However, since it probably literally came over on the Mayflower and is America’s favorite cheese for eating, we’d say the pinot fans would be just fine including it on their cheese platter for Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving Cheese Platter Tips
Quantity/Variety—First, three to five cheeses are about right, depending on your budget and what’s being served in the meal itself. Thanksgiving dinner is a big enough production as it is; there is no need to try and nibble your way through an extensive sampling of cheeses. Keep it simple…but offer a variety of textures and flavors. The selection noted above spans several types of cheese to keep things interesting. And you don’t have to buy a lot: generally speaking, an ounce of each cheese per person is enough…but given the huge meal of which this cheese platter is only a part, you could even trim it back to half an ounce. So for eight people, a quarter pound (4 oz.) of each cheese should suffice.
Timing—In Europe, the cheese course comes after the entrée and before dessert. But this is America, it’s the Thanksgiving feast, and you don’t want anything getting between Uncle Bob and the pumpkin pie that serves as the last stop before settling into the tryptophan-induced coma in front of the afternoon’s football games. For Thanksgiving, the cheese platter should be the appetizer: enjoyed with a clean palate before the onslaught of flavors, and not enough to spoil one’s appetite. Add some light crackers and a little bit of summer sausage for contrast if you wish, but keep it light. There’s plenty to come!
Presentation—Cheese boards and cheese tools add a nice touch for elegant, efficient serving. You always want to arrange your cheeses in a flight from mildest to strongest in flavor. So our selection would go like this:
Traditionally, the mildest cheese is placed in the 6 o’clock position on the cheese platter, progressing in a clockwise fashion. If your Cheddar is aged and sharp, place it after the Asiago.
And that’s it! Remember: Keep it simple (three to five cheeses). Allow half an ounce of cheese per person (but keep extra on hand for leftovers on sandwiches). Arrange from mildest to strongest, and serve before dinner. Whether you’re the host or just supplying the cheese course, everyone will be thankful to you this Thanksgiving.