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Here are the Best Cheeses for Your Holiday Party

Plus the drinks to pair with them

Maggie Borden

December 14, 2018

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Cheeseboard photo courtesy of Murray's Cheese
Photo: Murray's Cheese

From gingerbread to eggnog to bûche de noël and sufganiyot, holiday season eating can lean a little heavy on the sweet side. So unless you’re hosting a dessert dégustation, chances are you’ll need some savory snacks to keep your guests holly-jolly. Enter the cheese board—the perfect mix-and-match centerpiece for your next festive soirée. We asked the whizzes at Murray’s Cheese (who recently wowed our Greens members with a scotch-centric pairing dinner) to set us up with an array of options for any curd lover. Below, Elizabeth Chubbuck, senior vice president of marketing and sales, details her top picks for a holiday cheese plate, with boozy pairings to match.

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St. Stephen
Pairings: Sparkling Wine, Whiskey, IPA, Saison
This is the cheese that is guaranteed to make even your small-town cousins swoon and should be the centerpiece of any holiday cheese board. It is basically butter disguised as a brie. The rich fattiness of it lends well to all sorts of pairings. While triple creams traditionally pair best with Champagne, Cava, or Prosecco, the rich notes and high alcohol content of whiskey fold elegantly into this luscious cheese. Match it with a fruity, hoppy IPA or saison-style beer and voilà—notes of fresh grapefruit curd emerge. Pro-tip: skip the cheesecake and instead serve St. Stephen with black cherry confit and Effie’s oatcakes for D.I.Y. cherry cheesecake bites. This cheese is both uniquely show-stopping and a crowd pleaser.
 
Ossau Iraty
Pairings: Holiday Punch, Natural Wine, Whiskey, Beer
Everybody knows and loves a manchego, but how many people are familiar with Ossau Iraty? Like manchego, Ossau Iraty is an aged sheep’s milk cheese. Unlike manchego, Ossau Iraty is dense and silky smooth. I like to think of this cheese as the slightly more elegant, sophisticated French cousin of that classic Spanish cheese. Notes of lightly roasted macadamia nuts and raw cashews are balanced by rich acidity—think Persian-style yogurt—and subtle hints of beeswax. Ossau Iraty hasn’t met a drink it didn’t pair well with. Holiday punch? No problem. Funky natural wine? Easy match. The citrus, cherry, and spice notes of a cask-aged whiskey? Lifelong friend. Virtually any style of beer? Guaranteed delicious.
 
White Truffle Moliterno
Pairings: Scotch, Chardonnay, Golden Ale
Like the holidays, white truffles only come around once a year, and they are the epitome of decadence. This rare and wonderful cheese has white truffles layered into it. The result is a fudgy, textured bite of tangy, truffle-y goodness. Not only does it look dramatic on a holiday cheese board, it also pairs well with a variety of drinks. Earthy, woodsy notes of scotch compliment the rich, beguiling truffles. The buttery notes of an oaky Chardonnay smoothly meld with the tangy, truffle-y flavors of the cheese. Or pair it with a golden ale—the delicately sweet notes will be a welcome contrast to this bold cheese.
 
Greensward
Pairings: Scotch, Red Wine, Malty Beers
While I typically stick with crowd pleasers for the holidays, Greensward, a bit more adventurous, is too good to pass up. Bound in spruce bark, washed in hard cider, and with a silky, spoonable texture, this cheese could easily be the only one on your holiday board. Warm it gently in a low oven, use a paring knife to cut off the top circle of rind, peel it back, place the open-faced cheese on the board, and surround it with a colorful variety of dippable, scoopable foods: sliced chorizo, colorful crudité, crackers, cookies, bacon, toast points, green olives, pickled carrots, cippolini, whatever fits your fancy. Greensward is woodsy, savory, and intense: an ample addition to any sophisticated scotch; a meaty match for bold red wines; and the perfect pairing for malty beers. Building a single cheese holiday board is a bold, stylish move. Greensward is the perfect statement cheese.
 
Cambozola Black Label
Pairings: Porter, Stout, Whiskey, Full-Bodied Wines
Blues can sometimes be divisive, and the last thing you want during the holidays is controversy around the cheese board. Luckily, almost everyone loves a buttery brie. Cambozola ticks both boxes. Think of it as a hybrid double crème brie with mellow, nutty, licorice hints of blue. The velvety, edible gray rind on the outside of the cheese is visually stunning on the board as well. The subtle blue character, decadent buttery texture, and fresh mushroom note of the rind create a very unique flavor experience that is remarkably easy to pair with. The richness of porters and stouts make them an equal match. Whiskeys balance graciously as well. And unlike many other blues, Cambozola pairs well with fuller bodied wines—both red and white!

Learn more about JBF Greens.

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Maggie Borden is content manager at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.