Barge Lady Cruises Creative Director and resident foodie, Kelly, reveals her epicurean secrets to a hospitable evening of French indulgence!
One of the things I look forward to most when going on a barge cruise but of course – is the cheese course! I dream of French cheese beforehand, onboard I take healthy portions of each cheese… oftentimes seconds of my favorites, and when I am back home, I pine for it. Over the past ten years, thirty-plus cruises and too many (yet never enough) cheeses to count – I have honed my preferences, picked up tips and a go-to gougeres recipe, that will surely galvanize your guests!
Consider me a traditionalist, or maybe it is the many meals on the canals that have branded this into my mind – I like to serve a well-rounded cheese board that has variety but is also balanced.
There’s and old rhyme I like to keep in mind when cheese shopping: “Something old, something new, something goat, and something bleu.” In addition to variety, I like to make sure to showcase different textures (hard, soft, and the semis) and varying strengths of flavor.
Tips for Creating the Consummate Cheese Board
- Don’t serve too many cheeses – While a large selection is nice, a thoughtful selection is even better. I recommend an assortment of three to five cheeses, offering one cow’s milk, one goat’s milk, and one sheep’s milk when possible.
- Get Creative – When doing a fourth or fifth cheese, I like to mix it up and throw in one really unique cheese that will get my guests talking. My favorite choice for this is Sartori’s Reserve Espresso Bellavitano. Made by rubbing fresh roasted espresso into Bellavitano (think rich, nutty flavor reminiscent of a good Parmesan), the name and distinctive blackened rind is sure to pique interest. The slightly nutty, sweet notes with the espresso adding a smokey or roasted depth is always a crowd-pleaser.
- Respect the cheese – Leave the rind on and NEVER serve cold cheese. Nothing makes me cringe quite like cheese served straight out of the refrigerator. The fatty goodness that is cheese is best served at room temperature, releasing the full flavor. Keeping it wrapped in it’s packaging so it doesn’t dry out, let your cheese sit for one to two hours before serving. Exception: fresh cheeses – 30 minutes should suffice.
- Presentation counts – Use a board or tray large enough to provide easy access to each cheese and when possible a knife for each cheese to keep flavors from intermingling. When presenting your cheese board, start with the most mild cheese and work your way to the most pungent.
- Accompaniments – I like to stick with simple, seasonal choices that flatter the cheese in flavor and texture. A crusty baguette or rustic multigrain, fresh fruit, nuts and a little green leafy salad are a few possibilities. I’m also a big fan of dried apricots, especially with a nice brie.
Consummate Cheese Board
Brie de Meaux
Chabichou du Poitou
Sartori Espresso Bellavitano
Crusty baguette, walnuts, grapes, fresh figs or fig spread,
dried apricots and crackers
Go-To Gougères Recipe
Delicate, cheesy puffs of deliciousness – Gougères are sure to impress – and disappear quickly! For a fun twist and subtle depth of flavor I mixed in Sartori Espresso Bellavitano with the classic Gruyère. Et voila! Bite sized bliss to serve alongside your cheese board.
Servings: Makes about 50
- 6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs
- 2 ounces grated Gruyère
- 4 ounces grated Sartori Espresso Bellavitano cheese
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large egg yolk
Preheat oven to 400°
- Sift the flour and set aside
Cook mixture over medium heat, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon, until mixture pulls away from sides of pan and forms a ball, about 2 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring vigorously, until a dry film forms on bottom and sides of pan and dough is no longer sticky, about 2 minutes longer. Remove pan from heat and let dough cool slightly, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Once cooled, mix in whole eggs one at a time, making sure mixture is nice and smooth
Mix in cheese and pepper.
Scrape dough into a piping bag fitted with a ½” round tip or, use a plastic bag with a ½” opening cut diagonally from 1 corner. (I also used spoons to form rounded tablespoons when I don’t feel like messing with the piping)
Pipe 1” rounds about 2” apart onto 2 parchment-lined baking sheets. (Or scoop rounded tablespoons)
Whisk egg yolk and 1 tsp. water in a small bowl; brush rounds with egg wash.
Bake gougères until puffed and golden and dry in the center (they should sound hollow when tapped), 20–25 minutes.