At a Restaurant
Restaurants are an ideal place to sample small selections of cheese, and more restaurants are incorporating cheese in hors d'oeuvres, salads, main courses, and dessert. Find a restaurant (or several) that makes an effort to use new and unusual cheeses in their menu and in cheese courses, and you've found yourself a quick and easy way to learn about new cheeses. The trick, however, is to let the cheese accompany a meal, rather than letting it dictate the meal. You'll also want to pair your beverage choices (like wine, beer or spirits) with the cheese, and then the entire experience will be one worth remembering.
When cheese is part of an entrée, it's been chosen by the chef to complement the tastes of the entrée, making your job very simple. You only have to savor the tastes of the cheese along with the other tastes in the food and enjoy.
Cheese courses are served as both hors d'oeuvres and desserts. Generally speaking, an hors d'oeuvre should liven your palate and get you ready to enjoy the meal. Light and bright cheeses make good hors d'oeuvres: some examples are fresh and young natural-rind chèvres, light Bries, fetas, mild Cheddars, lightly pungent washed-rind cheeses, and tangy, bright blues. Most of these cheeses have bright starting tastes and delicate finishes, making them ideal for priming your palate.
What is a cheese steward?
A cheese steward is a specially trained and knowledgeable professional, most often found in fine restaurants or extensive cheese shops, who specializes in all things cheese. The cheese steward is often more informed than a regular waiter on pairing cheese with wines or other food items on the menu. The steward usually works directly with patrons on the floor of the restaurant or shop rather than in a kitchen.
Dessert courses are sweet and satisfying, they put a finish on a meal, and when cheese is a dessert course, you'll often see a selection of three or more cheeses with sweet, savory, and long finishes: pungent chèvres, highly aromatic washed-rind cheeses, complex and sharp blues, aged sharp Cheddars, and aged Goudas.
If you plan on eating the cheese course throughout your meal, make sure the flavors won't overpower other things you eat. Pair light food with light cheeses, and heavy food with earthy, robust cheeses. Don't be intimidated into thinking you have to order the smelliest cheese or eat large pieces. You are enjoying a lovely meal and your goal is to complement it, not overpower it. So nibble on the cheeses that enhance your experience.
In some countries, like France, cheese plates come out at every meal. This may seem like many rounds of cheese, but no one is expected to eat a lot of cheese or eat cheeses that don't go with other foods. The plate is simply there to enjoy if it feels right. Try this at home. Put three cheeses on a plate and bring it out at the beginning of a meal. By the end of the meal, the cheeses will be at room temperature and ready to enjoy.