Thanksgiving Appetizer: Beer and Cheese Plate!!!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Let's face facts here: most of the time, those of us entertaining are women, and our men play a backseat (albeit crucial) supporting role. We go crazy with the elegant dinner -- everything color-coordinated, glass and crystal this and that -- but forget that at least half of our guest list involves men. Mostly men who are watching football that day.

Men drink beer. They may drink wine with you, but if football is on, they must as per Manly Man Rule #34: drink beer if football is on within a 10 mile radius. So I thought this year I'd throw my own wonderful man a bone, and serve up some more manly eats to munch on during the game while I prepare the fancier dinner. Then he can drink the wine from the crystal with me later.

Beer has two things that go with it: nuts and cheese. You can't go wrong with that. But just because you're having beer and nuts and cheese, doesn't mean you have to sacrifice the elegance either.

Check out my brilliant compromise to manly football watching meets fancier dinner party! My menu most affectionately called: Haha I Fooled You It's Still Elegant Cheese Platter For Beer.

Here's what you need....

1.  Beer
Pick out something more special, with richer colors and textures that you can savor rather than down quickly. I asked The Hubsters aka Resident Beer Expert to recommend some beers for Thanskgiving and here's what he had to say:

"Short answer is that it really depends on the type of beer a person prefers, and how much you intend to eat later on. The one thing you probably want to avoid on Thanksgiving is filling up on too many beers -- it'll sabotage your ability to pack away the turkey.  So go with something tasty that you really enjoy because you probably won't be drinking a ton of it.

  • If it has high alcohol content like Chimay's various labels (white, red and the "grand reserve" blue), all the better. 
  • A personal favorite of mine is Kronenbourg 1664, which is a premium French lager that uses top end hops to give it a full, satisfying layer of flavors.
  • Sam Adams' "Boston Lager" (the main beer it sells) is always a solid choice. 
  • But you can't go wrong with locally brewed Red Hook's ESB (interestingly enough, Red Hook recently opened a brewery in New Hampshire). 
  • If you're into hops, an IPA from your local brewery is nice.  Here in the Northwest, I've enjoyed Ninkasi's IPA (from Oregon), as well as its double-IPA "Tricerahops." 
  • In terms of great beers that are becoming increasingly available, you can't go wrong with Stella Artois for something on the lighter, refreshing end. 
If you have no clue what to get, worst case scenario is to grab an ale or lager with a really interesting label -- odds are if the brewer put a lot of thought into their label, they put a lot of thought into their beer."

2.  Cheese
Many cheeses go with beer, so that's the good news. Beer has strong flavor, so this is no time to be shy -- you want some cheese with equal "heft" to stand up to the rich and complex beers. Try 1-3 different kinds of these:
  • Chimay -- just like the beer, they make cheeses that are designed to go with their beer; you cannot miss with a Chimay beer and cheese combination!
  • Sharp Cheddar -- Beecher's Flagship is really quite extraordinary with beers; the sharper the cheese the better, so serve it as a wedge on the platter and offer a cheese knife for people to help themselves.
  • Gruyere -- close to a lesser-sharped cheddar in terms of texture and flavor, it's a milder but still wonderfully nutty flavor that goes quite well with beer; cut into cubes and place on platter; go imported Gruyere from Switzerland if you can find it -- it's the best!
  • Aged Goudas -- Rembrandt in particular has a wonderfully nutty flavor that compliments beer, but any aged gouda would do you just fine; you can cut into pieces or serve it as a wedge.
  • Smoked Mozarella -- this is really a wonderful cheese that will add different texture to your cheese platter for beer; the inside is still creamy and soft but the outside is a wonderfully sweet and smoky flavor that just goes wonderfully with beer, especially smoky IPAs; cut it up into cubes and add toothpicks if you like.
  • Aged Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano -- offers wonderfully salty bites to go with the beer; you want to serve these in big wedges with a cheese knife so people can chisel their piece right off.
  • German Butter Cheese -- this is hard to find but excellent if you can
  • Limburger -- a very creamy German cheese with a texture like camembert and flavor like Gruyere; it's my only exception to the rule about creamy cheeses with beer; this is just wonderful spread on crackers with a good hefty beer; serve as a block with cheese knife that can be spread on crackers or bread.
When doing a beer cheese platter, this is no time to be fancy and pussy. I don't want any bries or camemberts, triple creams, goats (aged or not), or any bleus of any type whatsoever. Those are for wines and fancy cocktails. I want to see hard, aged, in-your-face flavored cheeses from Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, and the US. Maybe Canada. I don't know -- I don't trust Canadians.

3. Crackers
Make it easy on the poor bastards (and yourself!) and just do assorted crackers. By them at Costco. Don't do fancy sea salt crusted this or that, or fancy little slices of bread -- no one cares for this. Just do good ol' fashioned crackers. I'm talking wheat rounds, vegetable rectangles, pepper-crusted water crackers...that stuff. And to be perfectly honest with you, sneaking in a few Ritz for shits and giggles wouldn't hurt either.

4. Nuts
The Hubsters is a huge fan of the mixed nuts. They drive me nuts (no pun intended) because everyone eats the damn peanuts first, then someone bitches about who was the asshole who ate all the peanuts, and then the almonds get consumed in a very close second, then cashews, walnuts, and everyone leaves the Brazilian nuts last. Yes, it's in that order. I don't just bugs me. So do this: pick a damn nut and stick with one kind.

But again, you don't have to be all un-gourmet about it. Try these nuts that are awesome with beer:
  • dry roasted, sea-salted shelled peanuts
  • smoked almonds
  • chili spiced pistachios (they won't know what hit 'em!)
  • or my personal current obsession: rosemary and garlic marcona almonds
Oh ya, this is kind of off the charts good. Guaranteed -- these almonds will be GONE in less than 10 minutes at your party.

Rosemary and Garlic Marcona Almonds
2 cups roasted and salted marcona almonds imported from Spain
2 large cloves of garlic
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary
1 tsp safflower oil

Take the garlic and smash it with the flat side of your chef's knife. Remove the skin and cut off the dried end part. Heat the safflower oil in a saute pan on low heat. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook on low heat about 5 minutes -- you're infusing the oil with the garlic and rosemary. Toss in the almonds and coat well. Remove garlic cloves and discard. Pour almonds and rosemary in a serving dish. Ready to serve.

If you like you can leave the garlic in like I do because The Hubsters loves raw garlic, but if you're having guests then it's best to remove it.

And there you go! Save the wine for the dinner and do assorted artisinal beers with complimenting cheese platter this Thanksgiving or holiday party for your guests! Easy on you so you can focus on dinner, everyone is very happy with the munchies, and it's a new take on the classics.

Happy Thanksgiving and cheer a toast for me!

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