Top Five Cheeses for Thanksgiving Dishes
As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, I have been thinking about the role of cheese in this traditional feast. It’s a particularly heavy late-afternoon repast with nearly every type of food one can imagine: turkey with gravy, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, roasted squash, cauliflower, chestnuts, parsnips, carrots, various high-starch side-dishes, including all sorts of potatoes, and, of course many different pies, like sweet potato pie and pumpkin pie. The list seems endless. At the end of this culinary hedonistic celebration, who has an appetite for a cheese course? I certainly don’t.
Being the cheese enthusiast that I am, it’s impossible to imagine a feast of gastronomic pleasures without fromage. However, the absence of a dedicated course does not mean that cheese isn’t part of the feast. Indeed, in dishes, like chestnut soup, acorn squash puree, and pumpkin dip, cheese hardly takes a backseat role.
The deep earthy taste of cheddar is just as much a part of the meal as the savory autumnal experience of consuming hearty root vegetables. The complex sweet flavor of Comté, reminiscent of cocoa butter and apricots, impacts the palate in the same way as the buttery flesh of squash, the candy-like taste of cranberry sauce, and the distinct tanginess of nutmeg.
Rather than dominate the Thanksgiving meal, cheese should function as a crucial secondary food contributing flavors, textures, and smells to numerous dishes. To find out how to use it to enhance your holiday feast, check out my top five cheeses for Thanksgiving listed below.
1. Gruyère: Its rich taste of nuts, its thick rustic aroma, and its overall bright milky flavor make this cheese extremely appropriate in potato dishes, whether it’s lightly grated into a potato gratin or added to mashed potatoes. In addition, those looking for a French twist to their meal, can follow Saveur’s suggestion and make gougères using, of course, Gruyère. Bear in mind, that when it comes to this rich Alpine cheese, less is more. Rather than use a lot of cheap industrial Gruyère, it would be better to buy the artisanal version. After all, a small amount of big flavor goes a long way.
2. Comté: While it’s another Alpine cheese, similar to Gruyère, it sweeter and more delicate taste enhances soups and squash dishes, such as chestnut soup and acorn squash puree (check out Martha Stewart’s recipe) , by accentuating their creamy buttery texture and bringing out a taste evocative of fennel and onions. Select the best type of Comté that you can get your hands on. I recommend ones aged over 12 months from Marcel Petite. And like Gruyere, do not get carried away with quantity.
3. Cheddar: Earthier than the first two aforementioned cheeses, cheddar is perfect for enhancing the mild nutty flavor of cauliflower, highlighting both the savory and sweet tastes of root vegetables, and emphasizing a general vegetal tanginess. I suggest clothbound cheddar, like Cabot Clothbound aged between 10 and 14 months. It has a profound earthy sharpness that works well in any dish involving roasted veggies, in particular parsnips and carrots.
4. Parmesan: Just because it’s used as a garnish doesn’t mean its rich meaty flavors are in any way subdued. Just a spoonful of grated parmesan makes pumpkin dip “go down in the most delightful way.” The crispy crunchy texture of aged Parmigiano Reggiano creates a distinctly thick creamy consistency to a soup, puree, and dip. Rather than buy the pre-grated parmesan, purchase a chunk of imported Parmgiano Reggiano, and grate it directly into savory pumpkin dishes, like pumpkin soup, pumpkin casserole, and pumpkin sauce. Relish the intense sweet flavor, sometimes described as being reminiscent of caramel and pineapples, and savor the spicy aroma.
5. Roquefort: What can be more decadent (therefore, festive) than the succulent texture and sweet and spicy taste of Roquefort? When it comes to Thanksgiving salads, forget crumbled feta and goat cheese! Instead, spice it up with crumbled Roquefort. It’s an excellent way to showcase late fall and winter vegetables – frisee, escarole, endives, fennel, leeks, and celery. Mixed into a salad with hazelnuts and greens, this blue cheese accentuates the salad’s spiciness while at the same time it adds a deliciously sweet and creamy taste.
Even though cheese is not the center of the Thanksgiving meal (in no way, can it compare to the status of the turkey), it's one of the main flavors that should be featured during the feast.