Grate Expectations

A cheese course can add a delicious flourish to a dinner party. But for those raised on cubed Swiss and pepper Jack, knowing which cheeses to select and how to serve them can prove daunting.

Fortunately, metro Detroit is home to a multitude of markets stocked with gourmet cheese offerings — and experts who will help you explore them. Following are some tips from local cheese specialists to help you serve a suitably pungent and thoroughly tasty cheese course.

If you’re new to gourmet cheese, keep it simple. “We often start people with the basics, and that’s a cow, a goat, and a sheep’s milk,” says LaDonna Gillespie, manager of Holiday Market’s gourmet-cheese shop in Royal Oak. “Serve one from each category.”

Taste before buying. “Just because a cheese says English farmhouse cheddar [remember], the English make crappy cheddar, too,” says John Loomis, managing partner at Zingerman’s Creamery in Ann Arbor. “To me, it would be important to taste every one of them and make sure you like them [before buying]. Just about every cheese shop will let you do that now.”

Start the course with a mild cheese and build to bold.  For your transitional cheese, consider going blue, Gillespie says: “People think they’re a really strong cheese, but they really aren’t. They’re just a mild, creamy cheese with the mold that makes them a blue.”

Mind the occasion. “If the course is for Thanksgiving, I’m not going to put a lot of challenging cheeses out there,” Loomis says. “But for people who specifically want to come to a cheese tasting, I’ll put some more esoteric cheeses out.”

Let cheese breathe before serving. About 10 minutes at room temperature opens up a cheese and lets its perfume emerge, says Daniel Cosenzi, general manager of food-and-beverage operations at Toasted Oak Grill and Market in Novi.

Consider the guests. For example, gender matters. Gillespie says: “Guys don’t like the washed rind, bloomy cheeses as much as women. If it’s just women, go with the fruitier cheeses, like some nice Bries. If it’s just guys, you have to have a nice cheddar in there.”

Follow the French. A proper cheese course should be served at the end of the meal. Although many Americans ignore this custom and serve cheese as an appetizer, following dinner will ensure that your guests still have room for the main dish you labored over. That format also will protect your pocketbook. “The cheeses we make range from $25 to $40 a pound,” Loomis says. “You don’t want people who are really hungry eating them. Cheese is high-fat, and so people tend to overeat it.”

It’s a cheese tasting, not a cheese meal. Purchase 2 ounces of cheese per guest and serve by the sliver.

Include some additional nibbles. Fruit, such as grapes and figs, cuts the sourness of cheese. Baguettes, olives, and almonds can round out a cheese course nicely.

Make gourmet grilled-cheese sandwiches using Brie or cheddar and Michigan apple slices. See a recipe from 2 Unique Caterers & Event Planners of Royal Oak at

Slice Advice: A butter or pâté knife can be used for softer cheeses. Marinated cheeses in oil can be served with a small fork or spoon.

Remember to provide a separate cheese knife or utensil for each cheese, and encourage guests not to mix the knives to avoid mixing cheese flavors. — Source: