Over the years, an interest in hospitality has led me down some very “Martha Stewart-ish” paths. I don’t claim to have abilities anywhere near Dear Martha, but I enjoy experimenting with food, dabbling in catering from time to time, and collecting recipes from family, friends, and, of course, Pinterest.
To my surprise, I found that I enjoy styling my creations just as much as cooking them. Okay, maybe even more than cooking them. Several years ago this little bit of talent led to several catering opportunities. I enjoyed the creative process SO MUCH! There is nothing quite like the feeling of creating something and then pausing to take it all in when others appreciate your hard work. I soon found out something about catering, though. IT. IS. HARD. Really, it’s extremely hard work! And people don’t really want to pay you for the food AND the labor involved. So, after roping my family and friends into helping me out with a few events, they were beginning to smell a rat. Though they started out as cheap labor the first time, they were wanting to be paid up front, in large bills, the second time I called. So, I made the decision to take a break from catering for a while and just cook and design for my own events, and occasionally help out some close friends and family with theirs. That was several years ago, and I’ve not wandered back into the catering kitchen since. However, one of the creations that became very popular with clients, and that I still get requests to do for events today, was a cheese display. This was developed when one of my brides requested an “all sweets” reception – “like a cruise ship display,” she said. It turns out, the reception was to take place at 7 p.m., an hour when guests are generally pretty hungry, and she planned to serve adult beverages, and lots of them. So, I politely suggested that she might want to consider a separate room with some “savory” items that would satisfy her guests’ need for something a little substantial to go along with the rest of her choices. I thought cheese and fruit would be a great option, and then creativity struck. Using some serving dishes that I had on hand, along with a large mirror frame that I had purchased a couple years before and never bothered to buy a mirror to go in, I thought, why not come up with a variation of the “cheese wheel” for the guests, allowing them to try various types of cheeses and the items that go with them?
The cheese display turned out to be a huge hit at the wedding reception. It was the centerpiece of a beautiful room, and the guests naturally gravitated toward it. They had fun trying out the various cheeses, along with the carefully chosen “sides” to taste along with them. It became a “gathering spot” and “conversation piece” at the reception.
In addition to the cheese display, I added a table which featured a marinated cheese spread (recipe to come in future post), along with different types of olives and crackers.
After the reception, I had many requests to cater other events, but was only able to cater a couple more before my “staff” mutinied on me. Everyone, of course, requested the cheese display at their events, however. Below are additional cheese displays created for two separate wedding receptions that we managed to pull off before “retirement.” The bride and her mother had the amazing floral centerpiece created for the above display. It was very striking in the center of the reception hall, and again, it became a gathering place for conversation and sampling. The display below was created for the nanny of our boys when she married two summers ago. I did this as a gift for her, and managed to keep costs lower by including less artisanal breads and fewer jams, jellies, honeys, etc…
How can you recreate something similar for your own special event, or even a party at home? It’s very simple. You don’t have to have elaborate serving pieces, just get creative and pull things out that you already have on hand, such as trays, cutting boards, and baskets. You could even use pieces of lumber or tree trunks sawed into circular boards, stones, or tiles, from which to serve. Your guests will want to know exactly what they are sampling, so get creative in labeling your cheeses. Make your own tags out of garden markers, wooden spoons, or something your children create from toothpicks and construction paper. You could also use a large piece of slate to serve from, writing the names of your cheeses with chalk. As you place the cheese around the “wheel,” it is a good practice to begin with the milder and softer cheeses and work your way around to the stronger, more pungent, and harder cheeses, such as blue cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano. This is often called a “cheese clock,” dividing your wheel into four flavorful sections for mild, medium, bold, and strong cheeses. Also, get creative with the accompaniments that you serve with each cheese. You’ll want to choose things with flavors and textures that enhance or compliment each of the different cheeses. For instance, try pairing your cheeses with dried and fresh fruit, chutneys and jams, crusty breads, flavored honey, olives, roasted peppers, tomatoes, garlic toasts, crackers, and nuts. Let your guests decide which pairing they enjoy the best, experimenting to find their own unique flavor combinations. Of course, many people enjoy pairing the cheese with various wines which compliment the flavors. I’m not an expert on this subject, but there is plenty of information available online on this subject. Or, you may be able to invite an expert from a local winery or restaurant to assist with your event if this is something you wish to include. The key is to have fun, put your own creative spin on it, and provide an incredible atmosphere for folks to gather to celebrate an event or just being together. So, go ahead…get cheese-y!!! Blessings, Tron 🙂