A tempting cheese plate makes any holiday gathering more festive, and offering selections from Texas creameries adds a local flair to the table. Central Texas is home to a number of cheese makers featuring high-quality cow and goat milk cheeses in a variety of styles from mild queso fresco to robust blue cheese.
Dos Lunas Artisan Cheeses in Austin makes raw cow’s milk cheeses using techniques passed down from founder Joaquin Avellán’s father, a Venezuelan cheese maker. The queso fresco and cheddar style cheeses are straightforward varieties that are easy for everyone to enjoy, making them ideal party fare.
Cathy Strange, Global Cheese Buyer at Whole Food Market, recommends the Dos Lunas Seco, a queso fresco style cheese that is aged five months. “It has some bitterness, but is also very buttery. It would pair well with German style or a fruity, but not sweet wine, like a semi-dry Reisling that would highlight the butteriness.” Strange likes to serve Seco with caramelized pecans adding a crispy, candy sweetness to the buttery cheese.
Pure Luck Dairy in Dripping Springs is one of the most highly acclaimed Texas cheese makers, earning numerous awards over the years at the American Cheese Society competition and most recently having their feta named one of the best cheeses of 2013 by Culture magazine.
“Their feta is the best feta in the U.S. and one of my favorites in the world,” says Strange. “They take great care of their goats and make the cheese that day so it is creamy with clean, complex flavors.”
Strange recommends draining the feta for a few minutes before plating it and serving it with a drizzle of honey or an Italian mostarda, a condiment made of candied fruit and mustard syrup to adds sweetness and warmth to the cheese. Sauvignon Blanc is a classic pairing with feta but, for something different, Strange suggests pouring one of Texas’ award-winning Viogniers, like those from Becker Vineyards, McPherson Cellars or Pedernales Cellars.
Stuart and Connie Veldhuizen started making raw cow’s milk cheeses on their farm in Dublin, Texas thirteen years ago and now sell fifteen cheese varieties across the state. Veldhuizen Cheese uses a traditional cheese-making method that includes never heating the milk above the cow's natural temperature, thus preserving the natural bacteria that is normally killed during pasteurization while adding more intricate flavors to the cheese.
Strange enjoys their Bosque Blue, one of 32 cheeses featured in the Slow Foods Raw Milk Presidium, for its layered flavors and suggests a powerful, tannic wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon to highlight the savory qualities of the cheese. For the plate, Strange recommends serving the blue with honey and walnuts.
“If you have the skin on the walnuts, the bitterness in the skin makes the cream in the cheese taste sweeter, so even though it is a spicy cheese, it turns it a little bit milder,” says Strange.
When selecting cheese, consider a variety of styles for the plate including a more mild cheese for the less adventurous palettes. Strange advises planning for one to two ounces per serving and buying only a few days ahead of when you are going to serve.