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Guide to Cheese Serving Utensils

The perfect cheese outlay requires the right cutting utensils and decorative presentation

Fancy or simple, gourmet or plain, cheese is a favorite at most parties or gatherings. Even for impromptu get-togethers, you should be able to whip out a simple tray filled with delightful cheeses and an accompaniment of fruits, breads, and wines.

First, you should know how to get that cheese onto the table.

Before you can serve cheese, you should have a few accoutrements.

Display trays. Wooden, marble, or slate boards will always be appropriate. Woven trays are a good choice if your cheeses are already sliced or cubed. For cheeses that require slicing or cutting, use boards that are flat with no lip; accessibility is important when wielding small cheese knives. With the right decorative elements, any serving tray can be put into service. Use complementary baskets to hold breads and fruits.

Add seasonal color with faux leaves, which are available at specialty stores or on-line. Use them once and discard. Drape small linens over utility boards or use attractive paper mats as a base.

Fruits are always a welcome addition to a cheese tray. Make some fruits available for serving and others for simple decoration. Keep a supply of silk greenery on-hand to add a little color. Fresh is always best if you have a few flowers growing in the garden. Check carefully first for dirt and insects.

If all your cheeses are cubed, use a pedestal stand. This will give you extra space below the plate for breadboards or for decoration.

Cheese knives. Hard cheeses and soft cheeses require different utensils; look for combinations. Collect several in varying styles and in patterns that will mix and match. Shop for whimsical holiday knives that will add casual fun to your cheese arrangement.

A supply of skewers and round toothpicks. Colored or plain - keep plenty of these on hand for cubed cheeses and bite-sized accompaniments. Arrange them in small decorative holders, cover with plastic wrap or place in a plastic baggie and they will be ready to go for spur-of-the-moment serving.

Various cutting knives. If you have gone to the expense of selecting some of the finer cheeses, then you will need to carve them properly. Cut through firmer loaf varieties with double-handled knives; a spade will be useful for dividing Emmental-type cheeses. A cheese plane will be handy for cutting uniform slices.

Expect a small challenge when cutting soft cheeses. Some can be runny and you never want to smear the rind into the body. You should have a knife with a blade that is lower than the handle. This ensures a clean cut through the bottom rind. Etched blades prevent sticking.

Wire slicers can be an essential tool for many types of cheeses; blue-veined cheeses will especially benefit from the use of a wire. Score the rind lightly with a knife, then swipe the wire through the cheese in one smooth motion. For hard cheeses that require slicing, a board with the handle and wire attached work well.

If you find an attractive cheese bell, make sure the dome does not create an airtight seal that will prevent cheese from breathing.

Cheese markers. If you are holding a cheese tasting, then markers will help your guests identify the cheeses. Some are erasable or shaped to indicate the cheese origin; i.e., goat, sheep, cow. Many are easy to clean and dishwasher safe.

Fondue, with the right blend of cheeses and wines, is a classy way to gather around a small table or at a stand-alone station. Fondue crazes will always come and go, but if you stick to the basics, you will not be accused of following any outdated trends. You will need a fondue pot, a spirit burner, and enough skewers for plenty of dipping. A side note: forget the veggies. In true Swiss fashion, choose an exotic blend of one hard cheese and one soft, add a little wine and serve only with bites of crusted baguette or specialty bread loaves.

You do not need every cheese utensil on the market. In many cases, a chef's knife will do the trick for cutting. However, since you are going to the effort of learning about the better cheeses, these tools simple make the serving process more fun.

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