It wouldn't be un-American to serve a cheese plate in the traditional time -- after the meal, before dessert -- on Thanksgiving, but it wouldn't be very prudent either. Thanksgiving is about overeating and few folks I know will want anything coming between them and some sweets after a big Turkey Day meal. Instead, cheese is probably best served as an appetizer, munchies if you will while the meal cooks, especially since it usually takes longer than anticipated. And while it wouldn't be treasonous to serve cheese made in other countries, an American holiday is a fine time to highlight the phenomenal selection of great American cheese. Here are five examples.
Kunik is a bloomy rind cheese, which means it's a relative of brie. This New Yorker is made in the southern Adirondacks from goat's milk with a bit of Jersey cow cream ladled in. (Jersey cows give a richer milk than the traditional dairy cows and before you get any bright ideas, they're history on the British isle of Jersey predates Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" by several centuries.) The result is a sumptuous creamy, smooth cheese that goes perfectly on any sweet bread and with any sparkling wine or cider.
Rush Creek Reserve is the latest cheese from the folks who make the wonderful Pleasant Ridge Reserve. It's wrapped in bark and has a dense, woodsy flavor. It's best enjoyed by cutting the top off of a wheel and dipping into it crudite or swatches of crusty bread. It goes wonderfully with darker beers and red wines.
Vermont Shepherd is a sheep's milk cheese from Putney Vermont that is only available this time of year. It's renown for a gentle sweetness and hints of herbs and honey. Its producers studied cheesemaking in the French Pyrenees before setting up their farm. It pairs nicely with both red and white wines.
Marieke Aged Gouda is made by Dutch cheesemakers working in Wisconsin and it has all the hallmarks of a great aged gouda: It's salty, crumbly and there's a distinctive butterscotch overtone at the finish. Most aged goudas have that sweet and salty thing going on: They're the sea salt caramels of the cheese world. It's a cheese that pairs well with especially dry white wines and most beers.
Cabot Clothbound Cheddar set the standard for most new American clothbound cheddars, and it's versatile enough to handle all aspects of Thanksgiving. This cheese is great as an appetizer, especially with your favorite Cabernet Sauvignon. It's wonderful melted onto a slice of homemade apple pie, and it will jazz up a turkey sandwich on Black Friday.
Martin Johnson runs The Joy of Cheese, a series of informal cheese tastings that take place at four New York City bars and the 92nd Street Y. He has worked in and around cheese for 27 years, and he spends his Saturdays on the counter of the Bedford Cheese Shop in Brooklyn. He blogs at www.thejoyofcheese.com