Entertaining With Cheese

Christmas will soon be upon us and with that comes many enjoyable evenings of entertaining. Coming up with creative dishes to serve guests can be a fun challenge. One idea is wine and cheese tasting. Canada has well over 100 types of cheese to try and thanks to the Vintners Quality Alliance program (watch for the VQA label) many, many excellent Canadian Wines.

Start with the mildest cheeses accompanied by an array of light wines. Save more seasoned cheeses and full-bodied vintages for last. Here are several suggestions for a three course tasting. (See chart for quantities for a 4 or 10 person tasting)

First service

For the first service, include Brick, Havarti, mild Cheddar or Colby with a rosé or dry white wine, such as an Alsace, Orvieto, Entre-deux-mers, Sauvignon or Chablis.

Second service

The second service should include a selection of cheeses like Saint-Paulin, Edam, Friulano, medium Cheddar, Emmental, Camembert, Brie or Gouda, accompanied by a light red wine, such as a Beaujolais, Bourgogne, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon or Gamay.

Third service

The third and closing service highlights an assortment of strong Cheddars, Oka, Blue cheeses, Cantonnier or Vacherin. Serve with full-bodied wines such as Merlot, Bordeaux, Médoc, Côte-du-Rhône, Port or Ice Wines.

Other tips to make your tasting a success. Remove the cheese from the refrigerator one hour before serving as cheese is tastiest at room temperature. For convenience place a cheese knife on each platter of cheese. Serve a variety of crackers and breads such as baguettes, French or Italian bread and nut bread. Offer fresh fruit, including grapes, kiwis, apples and strawberries between servings.

If you prefer beer:

Light Beer: Brick, Brie, Cacciocavallo, Cheddar, Havarti.

Lager: Camembert, Cheddar (medium), Friulano, Oka, Saint-Paulin.

Ale: Cheddar (medium), Emmental, Gouda.

Stout: Cheddar (old), Havarti with jalapeño pepper, Provolone (aged).

Cheese is a comfort food and perfect for winter entertaining. The following are other recipe ideas ranging from appetizer to soup to main course to dessert for entertaining with cheese.

4 people
10 people
1st Service
2 varieties (total qty: 350 g)
Wine: 1 or 2 bottles rosé or dry white
1st Service
3 varieties (total qty: 850 g)
3 bottles rosé or dry white
2nd Service
2 varieties (total qty: 350 g)
Wine: 1 or 2 bottles of light red
2nd Service
3 varieties (total qty: 850 g)
2-3 bottles of light red
3rd Service
1 variety (total qty: 30 g)
Wine: 1 bottle of full-bodied red
3rd Service
2 varieties (total qty: 800 g)
1 or 2 bottles of full-bodied red
Total: 250 g cheese per person and 500 to 750 mL wine per person

Hazelnut Crusted Chicken & Havarti à l’Orange

1 cup very finely chopped hazelnuts (filberts) 250 mL
6 tbsp grated Canadian Parmesan 90 mL
1 tsp paprika 5 mL
6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, flattened 6
1 egg, beaten 1
5 tbsp butter, divided 75 mL
6 thin slices Canadian Havarti* 6
6 green onions, thinly sliced 6
1 cup orange juice 250 mL
1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur 50 mL
2 tsp cornstarch 10 mL

Combine nuts, Canadian Parmesan and paprika in shallow dish. Dip chicken in egg then coat with nut mixture. Melt 2 tbsp (25 mL) of the butter in large frypan over medium-high heat. Cook half the chicken 2 minutes per side or until no longer pink in centre; remove from pan. Repeat using 2 tbsp (25 mL) more butter and remaining chicken. Place chicken on serving platter; top with slices of Canadian Havarti and place in 250°F (120°C) oven to keep warm. Add remaining 1 tbsp (15 mL) butter to pan and sauté onions until tender. Combine orange juice, liqueur and cornstarch; add to pan. Cook and stir, scraping up brown bits in the pan, until mixture boils and thickens. Salt and pepper to taste. To serve, pour sauce over chicken. Makes 6 servings.

*For a change of taste use Canadian Gouda or Canadian Edam.

Fusilli Parmigiana Bake

3 cups fusilli pasta 750 mL
5 tbsp butter, divided 75 mL
1/2 cup sliced green onions 125 mL
3 tbsp all purpose flour 45 mL
3 cups milk 750 mL
1 1/4 cups grated Canadian Parmesan* 300 mL
3/4 cup shredded Canadian Mozzarella* 175 mL
2 – 19 oz cans Italian-sytle stewed tomatoes 2 – 540 mL
3 slices bread, crusts removed, torn into small bits 3
chopped parsley

Cook fusilli according to package directions; drain. Meanwhile, melt 3 tbsp (45 mL) of the butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until tender. Remove from heat. Blend in flour. Gradually stir in milk. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat. Add Canadian Parmesan and Mozzarella; stir until melted. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in fusilli. Drain tomatoes (use juice for another recipe) and coarsely chop, if necessary. Spoon half the tomatoes into a 2-quart (2-L) casserole. Top with half the fusilli mixture.

Repeat layers. Melt remaining 2 tbsp (25 mL) butter and toss with bread; sprinkle over casserole. Top with parsley. Bake, uncovered, in 350°F (180°C) oven for 35 minutes or until bread is toasted and sauce is bubbly. Makes 6 servings.

*To change the taste, use preshredded Canadian Italian-type Cheese Blend.

Shrimp Wontons with Asian Dipping Sauce

1/2 lb chopped, cooked shrimp 250 g
1/2 lb chive and onion Canadian Cream Cheese 250 g
2 tbsp chopped cilantro 30 mL
1 tsp each chopped gingerroot and sesame oil 5 mL
32 wonton wrappers 32
Asian Dipping Sauce:
1/4 cup each soy sauce and rice vinegar 50 mL
chopped cilantro

Combine chopped, cooked shrimp, chive and onion Canadian Cream Cheese, chopped cilantro, chopped gingerroot and sesame oil.  Mix well.

Place about 2 tsp (10 mL) of mixture in the centres of  wonton wrappers. Brush edges with water, bring corners together over filling, twist and pinch to seal. Place wontons on baking sheet, brush outsides with water and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Bake, 1 dozen at a time, in 425°F (220°C) oven for 8 minutes or until golden around the edges.

Serve warm with dipping sauce.

Makes 32 Appetizers

Asian Dipping Sauce:  Combine soy sauce and rice vinegar. Add chopped cilantro, to taste.

Cream of Mushroom & Leek Soup with Oka Croutons

1/4 cup butter 50 mL
2 cups sliced leeks (white and pale green parts) 500 mL
1 large onion, chopped 1
4 cups sliced brown or white mushrooms 1 L
2 – 10 oz can condensed chicken broth 2 – 284 mL
2 soup cans of water 2
3/4 cup dry white wine 175 mL
2 bay leaves 2
2 cups milk 500 mL
1/4 cup all purpose flour 50 mL
20 thin slices toasted baguette 20
8 oz Canadian Oka* Cheese, sliced 250 g

Melt butter in Dutch oven over medium-high heat and sauté leeks and onion until softened. Add mushrooms and cook 10 minutes longer. Stir in chicken broth, water, wine and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Discard bay leaves. Purée soup in batches in blender or food processor and return to pan. Combine milk and flour; add to pan. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until mixture comes to a boil. Cover and keep warm. Top toast with slices of Canadian Oka; broil until cheese just starts to melt. Serve each bowl of soup with Canadian Oka croutons. Makes 10 servings.

*For a change of taste use Canadian Swiss cheese or Canadian Brie.

Holiday Cheesecake Cups

1 1/4 cups Graham cracker crumbs 300 mL
1/4 cup butter, melted 50 mL
3 pkgs (250 g each) Canadian Cream Cheese, softened 3
1 cup sugar 250 mL
3 eggs 3
2 tsp vanilla extract, divided 10 mL
1 1/2 cups sour cream, divided 375 mL
3 tbsp sugar 45 mL
fresh fruit or berries

Double line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. In small bowl, combine cracker crumbs and butter. Press about 1 tbsp (15 mL) of mixture onto bottom of each cup. In large mixer bowl, beat Canadian Cream Cheese until light and fluffy; gradually beat in the 1 cup (250 mL) of sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in 1 tsp (5 mL) of the vanilla extract and 1/2 cup (125 mL) of the sour cream. Divide mixture among prepared muffin cups. Bake in 325°F (160°C) oven for 30 minutes.

Combine remaining 1 cup (250 mL) sour cream, the 3 tbsp (45 mL) of sugar and remaining 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract; spread over cheesecake cups. Bake 5 minutes longer. Cool in pan on wire rack. Chill.

To serve, remove cheesecakes from cups and top with fresh fruits or berries. Makes 24 cupcakes.

*For a change of taste use Canadian Swiss Cheese or Canadian Brie.

Note: To make 1 large cheesecake, press Graham cracker mixture onto bottom of 9-inch (23-cm) springform pan; top with Canadian Cream Cheese mixture. Bake in 350°F (180°C) oven for 45 minutes, or until just set when gently shaken. Top with sour cream mixture and bake 5 minutes longer.

By Dorothy Long