The Ultimate Holiday Cheese Plate

Looking for cheeses to fit the holiday spirit? Here’s every cheese you need and where to find it.

I was obsessed with geography as a kid. That’s what brought me to my love of food. Because what is food, really, but an expression of the place it came from?

My high school geography teacher used to tell us, “Things happen in places.” And everyone laughed because, duh, Ms. V, of course things happen in places. But Ms. V was right. Things DO happen in places, and those places matter – a lot! 

Food is made in a particular place. And food is eaten in another, specific place. And those two places are the first thing I think about when I’m designing a meal – or a cheese board.

I’ll spend this Christmas warming up by the fire, even though I’ll be in sunny southern California. But those desert nights are cold! Anyways, as someone who grew up in the blizzards of the American east coast, Christmas will always be cold for me, no matter where I am.

That sends me in search of cheeses from places where people are also cold and looking to warm up. Places like Normandy, in northern France, or Vermont, in northeastern U.S. I’ll be craving cheeses with a kick. Like a biting blue to send some fire down my spine or a stinky, washed-rind cheese to send that fire right up my nose.

I’m also thinking about the emotional place I’ll be in. Well-fed, drunk, happy with family but a little sad, knowing in a few days I’ll head back across the world to my life in Paris. So I’ll be looking for comfort, something that’s the cheesy equivalent of a big hug or a cozy blanket. So I head straight to the world of velvety, bloomy babes (think an oozing Brie).

With that in mind, here are five cheeses to warm you up on whatever December holiday you’re celebrating. Use the links to order in time for holiday feasting and check out my Instagram @veronica_in_paris for bonus cheeseboard recommendations. 

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The rind is dried cheese. Totally edible with a concentrated, earthy flavor. 

Ossau-Iraty: The Best Cheese in the World

This firm cheese from the mountains of France’s Basque country is a cousin of the Spanish Manchego. There’s a reason Ossau-Iraty beat out 2700 other cheeses to win Best Cheese in the World. Sweet, nutty flavors and the rich texture of high-fat sheep’s milk is the culinary version of being wrapped in a cozy blanket.

Murray’s Cheese sells wheels rumored to descend from those produced by the son of Apollo. They also sell Landmark Creamery’s answer to Ossau-Iraty, the Anabasque (get the reference?), which won third place in the 2017 American Cheese Society Awards

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The green line of pistachios is a special add from Paris cheese masters, Androuet.

Brillat-Savarin: The Foie Gras of Fromage

This triple-cream cow’s milk cheese from Normandy (and sometimes Burgundy or around Paris) is a no-brainer for T-day. The dripping outer layer and creamy center melt in your mouth like butter – or like foie gras, from which it gets its nickname. After all, we are talking 75% fat. Don’t worry, that’s measured when the cheese is dry. What you’re eating is only about a third fat. Diet friendly 😉

Get a (pasteurized) Brillat-Savarin cheese from Murray’s or opt for Cowgirl Creamery’s triple-cream Mt. Tam. For added holiday cheer, try the Truffle Tam Home Kit, which comes with everything you need to add a layer of truffles to the cheese. Pro tip: mix the truffle pate they provide with a little mascarpone. Trust me!

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Use a spoon or dip your bread right in.

Mont D’Or: The Spoonable Cheese

People from the Alps know a good winter cheese. Mont d’Or, from France’s eastern Jura region, is a staple on any French holiday table. Its fondue texture envelops your mouth with the taste of the woods. Specifically, the taste of the spruce band that holds it all together. You’ll need a spoon for this one. Isn’t that always a good sign?

Murray’s has a version from just over the border in Switzerland, but it will set you back $40.  For something more local, and budget-friendly, check out Jasper Hill’s spruce-wrapped Harbison cheese.

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Keep these cheeses in their containers or they will melt all over your tray.

Époisses: The Bacon of Cheese

We’ve arrived at the fire cheeses. This dripping, oozing, cow’s milk cheese is washed in a brandy made from pressed Burgundy grapes. It’s smelly, salty, and tastes a little like sulphur – in a good way! A lot of people compare the flavor to bacon. Don’t be afraid to lick any drips off your fingers. I bet the monks who invented this back in the 10th-century were doing the same.

You can get a pasteurized version from Murray’s. Otherwise, go for Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk. It’s washed in brine and has beefy, aromas like Époisses.

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The French say an odd number of cheeses looks better than an even number.

Roquefort: The Queen of Cheese

Roquefort is the queen of blues. She’s salty, spicy, and sweet, and she coats your tongue with a fudginess from the fatty sheep’s milk. She’s everything you could want. Spread a rich French or cultured American butter on your bread before adding the Roquefort. Trust me.

Murray’s has a raw-milk version. Hurray! Or try the Yellow House sheep’s milk blue cheese, which was the American Cheese Society winner two years in a row

Pairing Recommendation

Slide quince or pear jam onto your cheese tray for some sweet with your salty.

Serve alongside a dry Champagne with fine, crisp bubbles. The in-the-know favorite Billecart-Salmon Brut will cut right through the fat, salt, and post-feast sleepiness. If you’d rather emphasize the fat factor, opt for a bottle of buttery Chardonnay, like a Chablis from Burgundy. 

Happy Holidays!

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