Whether it's an office party, an intimate dinner gathering or an open-house cocktail party for the neighbours, a cheese board is never out of place during the holidays. It can centre your buffet table or complete a multicourse meal. And this year, to elevate the festivities, you need to get the best of the best – I've selected some of 2013's award-winning cheeses to help assemble a blue-ribbon cheese board.
These choices showcase Canadian producers at the Royal Winter Fair (RWF), the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix (CGP), the American Cheese Society Awards (ACS), the British Cheese Awards (BCA), Global Cheese Awards (GCA) and World Cheese Awards (WCA).
SILKY AND INDULGENT
Saint-Honoré (ACS): You cannot go wrong with a triple cream. You can serve it whole and it's beautiful paired with a Belgian fruit beer.
Champfleury (RWF): This washed, bloomy cheese has become a bit of a go-to for me when bringing cheese to an event. It's soft, rich and indulgent – readily available and I usually can find a nice ripe wheel. It's flavourful, slightly pungent but always a crowd-pleaser. Try it with cider.
Ashley Goat (RWF): A goat's-milk cheese divided with a line of dark ash, this one's lovely eye candy on the cheese board and might even win over goat naysayers. Add some roasted red peppers on the side.
SMELLY AND SAVOURY
Le Mamirolle (CGP): Supple, buttery and salty, this Quebec washed rind is great for nibbling. Try putting it out for brunch with crisp pear or sweet apple slices.
Oka Classique (RWF): People complain that Oka isn't Oka since Agropur bought the recipe, but I love this Canadian classic and it's a crowd-pleaser (kids, too) without being boring.
THE LONG FINISH
Aged Laankaster (GCA): Recently winner of "Supreme Global Champion," this firm cheese is smooth with butterscotch notes and a perfect balance of flavour.
Tania Toscano (RWF, WCA): As a big fan of sheep's-milk cheese and its sweet, mild and nutty notes, I think this is a perfect special-occasion wedge. Aside from flavour, the colour – a rich, golden yellow – is a show-stopper. Try this one (and Grizzly Gouda) for the red-wine lovers.
Grizzly Gouda (CGP): I have featured this cheese multiple times this year at larger parties as it is a surefire hit. If you like Beemster, step it up a notch with the complex, creamy, last-forever flavours in this wheel. A perfect cheese for serving solo. Pair with a dark, lightly spiced winter beer. Outside Alberta, you can have a wedge shipped to you.
BREAKFAST OR DINNER
Quality Cheese Ricotta (CGP): Try to get this full and sweet, national award-winner the day it's made so you don't have to refrigerate before serving. You may think of ricotta only for breakfast (and yes, it is amazing with honey, maple syrup or berries), but try serving bite-size portions drizzled with white balsamic and extra-virgin olive oil at your next dinner party. Ricotta can make a great appetizer or an elegant, light dessert.
Sue Riedl blogs about cheese and other edibles at cheeseandtoast.com.