The cheese course is so much fun that sometimes I make a light dinner of it with a bottle of wine and some fruit. Have fun at your local cheese counter; ask lots of questions; sample anything that sounds good; don't be afraid to experiment!


Carmelized Onions:

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped into thin rings
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup red wine

Fig Compote:

- 4-5 figs, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup port
- 1 blood orange, cut in half
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Pumpernickle & Brioche Toast:

- 1 small loaf freshly baked pumpernickle bread
- 2 brioche

How to Serve:

ASSEMBLING THE CHEESE PLATTER: You'll want at least three different cheeses for this course; depending on your mood, you might splurge and go for five. I recommend that you arrange them in order of strength; begin tasting with the most mild cheese, and slowly work your way through to the strongest. Here are a few of my favorites to get you started; you should buy 3-4 ounce wedges of each cheese you select.

A soft, mild cheese such as a triple-cream Brie (St. Andre is our favorite) or Camembert
A soft, semi-strong cheese such as Tallegio or Chevre with herbs
A semi-hard mild cheese, such as an Asiago, Swiss, Havarti, or the super-yummy English Cotswald with chives.
A hard, strong cheese, such as a cave-aged Gruyere, Parmigiano-Reggiano or Aged Farmhouse Cheddar.
A blue cheese. Stilton or Gorgonzola are both good choices; if you've never experimented with blue, you'll be surprised how much variation there is; from the pungent Roaring Forties Blue to the creamy-tangy Point Reyes Blue, there are lots to choose from.

To Accompany the Cheese: A range of sweet and salty accompaniments is advised... we like preserved sour-tart cherries, salty-sharp cornichons and a couple of homemade "marmalades" of onions and figs that make the flavors of the cheese really pop!

Carmelized Onions:

In a skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat and add the onions, stirring occasionally until onions become translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Add the butter; a moment or two later, add the wine; as it begins to evaporate, reduce heat. Allow the onions to slowly become soft and carmelized, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and place into a small serving bowl. Refrigerate; remove just before serving.

Fig Compote:

In a small skillet, heat the butter over medium heat; add the figs. Stir every minute or so, allowing the figs to soften and bubble. Add the port; stir as the alcohol evaporates. Squeeze the juice from the blood orange halves into the skillet. Add the cinnamon. Reduce heat; allow the mixture to slowly reduce and thicken, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and place in a small bowl; refrigerate until serving.

Pumpernickle & Brioche Toast:
Slice the pumpernickle bread into 1/4" slices. Using a serrated knife, cut the brioche into slices. Lightly toast both breads just before the cheese course; place into a cloth-covered basket next to the cheese platter for serving.

If you can't find pumpernickle or fresh brioche, try a loaf of good white bread;cut into 1/4" slices and press a juice glass into the middle to form rounds. Toast the rounds and serve.


I like to sprinkle the cheese platter with shelled nuts; pistachios and toasted hazlenuts are a couple of my favorites. Almonds and walnuts work well, too. The addition of some dried fruit - cranberries, cherries or apricots - makes another delicious and colorful addition.

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