Corbin: Cheese tasting fun, inexpensive

LOS ANGELES For many, money is tight and there's no end in sight for relief. So rather than go out, why not have a few friends in? One way to entertain - and learn a thing or two about food - is with a tasting party.

Jason Truckenmiller, the cheese monger at ENO at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel, says a cheese tasting is one of the easiest and economical parties you can have. Trukenmiller says, "You can get a lot of flavor with a little bang for the buck."

You don't have to buy pounds and pounds of cheese to put together a really nice cheese plate. He averages just two-to-three ounces of cheese per person. Truckenmiller says it's a good idea to buy just a fifth to a quarter pound of five cheeses for a nice variety.

You can slice them thin and fan them out, covering more of the plate for the appearance of fullness. Make sure you set cheese out 30 minutes prior to the guests' arrival. Truckenmiller points out, "The flavor of cheese blooms as it comes closer to room temperature."

Start with mild cheese like brie and progress to hard or bold cheeses. Serve soft cheese like brie with some sort of jam, and keep runny cheeses on one plate to avoid a gooey mess. Offer goat cheese with apricots, a classic paring, while hard and salty cheeses like blues or tangy cheddars work well with a sweet acidic fruit like blackberries.

When it comes to bread and crackers, something plain is best. Truckenmiller suggests a sliced baguette, or a plain cracker for those who like crunch.

Inviting around 10 allows everyone to be in the same room for conversation and education. Truckenmiller also recommends holding the party at a time that doesn't indicate a big meal, like in the afternoon or at cocktail hour.

Another great idea is to ask each guests to bring their favorite cheese to reduce both prep time and cost.

Quick tips for a cheese party:

  • Serve 2 - 3 ounces per person. Choose 4 or 5 varieties
  • Set cheese out 30 min. prior to party for full cheese flavor
  • Start with mild cheeses, working up to hard or bold cheese
  • Ask each guest to bring their favorite cheese to cut cost and prep work

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