We’re snacking on a lot of cheese this season. So far we’ve talked about our favorite way to eat a few staples, but today we’re going out on a limb and trying some new varieties!
There really are so many cheeses out there, and while I’m an adventurous eater, I often find myself sticking to a handful of cheeses that I know and love. Just walking up to the cheese counter is overwhelming ~ so many varieties, where do I even start? And then I would look at some of the prices and just shyly turn around and pick up my Cabot or Brie Supreme and go on my merry way. Or, that was the scene until I discovered Whole Food’s Nibble Nook!
The Nibble Nook is a little basket of cheese ends/remnants (you can see it above tucked in between their off-the-shelf cheddar, feta, and mozzarella). My guess is that many grocers selling cuttings of large cheese wheels may have their version of a nibble nook. If you’re open to trying some new cheese and flexible as to the options available, the Nibble Nook is a great place to look. The selection within the basket is constantly changing as different cheeses are cut and as shoppers pick out their favorites. And the cuts are small, so while I would be hesitant to be a large wedge of a cheese that’s priced at over $20/lb, I’m happy to buy a small bit for nibbling.
I always approach the bin with an open mind and pick out any cheeses that look promising (that’s every cheese), and right now I’m also sticking to only those made with pasteurized milk. On this particular visit, the bin was overflowing with two varieties of hard cheese from Uniekaas, a Dutch company: a 3 year Gouda and a Parrano. I’m sad to say, I had to pass on a beautiful looking cheese that had bits of black truffle throughout but was made with unpasteurized milk. From the labels, you can see that each of the cheeses I picked has a big price tag ($22 and $15 per pound), but the wedges are both close to a tenth of a pound, making it an affordable splurge (is that a thing?).
I also love Whole Foods visits for their constant sample tables, on this particular day a table of raw uber-local honey (from hives within our county!), was perfectly positioned at the end of the cheese aisle. They even happened to be serving up the samples with a variety of Parrano, so I had to pick up a jar. And as you’ll see, it ended up making such a perfect treat!
A little bit about the cheeses. Both of these cheeses are considered great snacking cheeses in the Netherlands, their home country.
(The orange cheese in these photos)
Gouda is a Dutch hard yellow cheese made from cow’s milk. The cheese may be aged anywhere from a month to many years. This particular Gouda was aged for three years, classifying it as a “very old cheese”. As a Gouda ages it acquires a caramel sweetness and develops a slight crunch from cheese crystals that form as water within the cheese evaporates. The cheese’s sweetness is due to removing some of the whey, which also removes some of the lactic acid, early in the cheese-making process and replacing it with water.
(The white cheese in these photos)
Parrano is also a technically a Dutch Gouda, but with a flavor similar to aged parmesan. Parranos are aged for about 5 months, giving them a semi-firm texture. As described on the company’s website, Parrano is “slightly sweet, a little bit nutty but still with a deliciously strong flavour”.
As is common, I like to include some fruit on my cheese plates. Continuing with my adventurous ways, I’m not too picky when it comes to the fruits I choose. I’ll often look for anything in season and deliciously ripe (there’s no point in serving out-of-season strawberries that taste like water, right?). On this particular day, I already had some raspberries and pomegranate in my fridge. As it turns out, their slight tartness was a perfect complement to the sweet honey and sharp cheeses!
This is a raw, unfiltered, and unheated honey. As a result, it has a cloudy appearance from the honey crystals that have begun to form (it may also have some bits of wax, pollen, bee wings, and such in the jar). If you put a dollop of raw honey on a plate, you’ll find that it spreads more slowly than crystal clear honey. It turns out that this is really useful for gluing some fun cheese/cracker/berry combos together! And here you thought raw honey was just good for its enzymes.
Look at how beautiful that cracker looks with a bit of cheese, dollop of honey, and a few perfectly placed pomegranate seeds! There’s no way those seeds will fall off on the way from the plate to your mouth. This is a particularly handy trick for cocktail parties if you want to make a few fancy cracker/cheese combos rather than having guests make their own. You definitely don’t have to worry about the appetizer falling apart before it’s served. I also found honey to be particularly useful for keeping the crumbly gouda on my cracker. You can see that I double-dipped in the last photo – starting with a slice of Parrano and then adding crumbles of Gouda over the honey. indulge much?
I can’t emphasize enough how delicious these particular combos were. The crackers were just a basic wheat thin. Both cheeses had a bit of a nutty flavor. The honey added that touch of sweetness. And then, as I already mentioned, the fruit added a bit of a tart note. Plus it was extra fun to get that little spray of juice and crunch when biting down on the pomegranate seeds.
And this adventure all started with a quick trip to the Nibble Nook. Who knows what next week’s visit will hold… and I can only hope that come April they add some of that truffle cheese back to the bin!
So tell us – does your grocery store have their own version of the nibble nook? Did you find any really outstanding cheeses there?