‘Tis the season for indoor entertaining. Here, a trio of champion local cheesemongers whey in on the ultimate crowd-pleasing edible centerpiece — let’s take it clockwise from the top …
Mill Road Cheese Shop, 216 Mill Road, Westhampton Beach, 631-998-0483
1. Burcheron, Loire Valley, France; $22/pound. The ridgy white outer rind and log-like shape make this 60-day aged goat cheese look festively similar to a buche de noel. As the cheese ripens over time the sharper-tasting outer circle grows, while the snow-white inside is gorgeously mild and crumbly. Gonzalez loves pairing this with “Backyard Honey” from Westhampton Beach beekeepers Ketchaponack Apiary.
2. Abbaye du Belloc, Pays Basque, France; $32/pound. From a monastery in the Basque corner of France, the distinct ridgy pattern on the outer wheel of this natural-rind sheep’s milk cheese come from the basket mold where it ages for nine to 12 months. Super approachable and easy to love for the non-stinky-cheese set, its texture is smooth, creamy and rich.
3. Oma, Jasper Hill Farms, Greensboro, Vermont; $38/pound. Oh my. The rind of this semi-soft cow’s milk-based beauty is washed in locally made Vermont pear brandy and aged for 90 days. It’s a great pick to wow both the cheese snobs and artisanal cheese newbies. “I love how complex it is,” says Gonzalez. “It’s not smoked, but it has this kind of savory, bacon smoke note to it.” It’s nutty and a little tangy, too, with the added bonus of the a slightly crystallized, absolutely delicious texture on the rind. Yum!
4. Atlantic Mist, Bridgehampton; $38/pound. The South Fork’s only dairy uses raw milk from its herd of grass-grazing Jersey cows, making cheese from this family-owned spot about as fresh as you can get. Billed as a cross between a brie and camembert, its grassy, earthy flavor yearns for a slice of green apple, and the texture — firmer than a brie but softer than a camembert — is pleasantly chewy and oh-so creamy.
5. Farmhouse Cheddar, Bridgehampton, $34/pound. Aged for eight months (if you stop by the Mecox grab-and-go farm store, you can peek through the windows and see some of the wheels maturing!) this mild English-style cheddar is softer than you might expect and awfully good with a dollop of tomato jam. Local pro tip: Save some for burger night, as it’s oh-so melty.
6. Moliterno Black Truffle Pecorino, Sardinia, Italy; $40/pound. What is it about truffles that drives people bonkers? And in cheese — well, it barely can stay on a shelf, so delicious is that nutty, rich, savory aroma. Made from tangy sheep’s milk, the thick, mighty veins of truffle running generously through this piquant Pecorino will be an easy crowd fave.
7. Fluer Vert, Loire, France; $38/pound. If you get jazzed by having a little bit of that wow factor on your table and gasps of delight are music to your ears, this thoroughly stunning cake of goat cheese is for you. Seriously — it sits on a platter, covered in crust of dried herbs and dotted with pretty pink peppercorns, reminiscent of holly, and it’s doled out by the slice. Get two curvy bumps together, and looks just like a heart. Awwww.
8. Shropshire Blue, Nottinghamshire, England; $38/pound. The color alone of this Stilton-esque blue cheese from cow’s milk is reason enough to deem it fit to decorate your holiday cheese board, but that color is actually a practical differentiator for the cheesemonger. It means this particular blue is made with vegetarian rennet, the color coming from the annatto flower.