Oh, there it is, Valentine's Day. Winter was going so well. Your fondue party was a hit, Wednesday's mac and cheese experiment has yielded stellar results, and you've resisted all temptation to try the cheese you're aging in your wine cooler. Then comes The Day—the day you're supposed to impress your special someone with a special something.
Naturally, when you think of romance, you think of cheese. In the pantheon of amorous foods, there are oysters, chocolate, and then...cheese. (At least that's how I rank them.) Please thank me in advance as I save your Valentine's Day through the powers of fermented mammal milk. Sexy, non? Here's a guide to buying cheese for your squeeze.
For that Special Someone You Kinda Just Met and Feel Like You're Supposed to Hang out With on Valentine's Day [full disclosure: I've been with the same special someone for almost 15 years so this one might be horribly inaccurate]:
First, go to your local cheese shop together. You want to see how your date treats the people behind the counter. Are they a know-it-all? "Oh, I've had 8-year goudas (and they pronounce the word like howda, with a guttural H) that were far more flavorful than this one." Or maybe they're cheap! "$25 a pound for cheese? I can buy a block of cheddar at [insert discount food store here] for $6 a pound. How about we just eat crackers?" This will help expedite the end to your budding romance. You may then feel free to proceed with faking illness and heading home to console yourself with a tall glass of cold gin.
But let's be optimistic and say that your date is warm and funny, and you're ready to pick out some cheese. Stay away from the creamy stuff in the beginning stages of a relationship. They're messy and awkward to eat. And if your special friend has a sensitive stomach, runny cheeses can cause issues. Stick with something safe, like a domestic cheddar. A great option is Prairie Breeze from Milton, Iowa.
Go for a baguette as a vessel, because bread is inherently more romantic than cracker crumbs. Slice up the bread, top with cheese, stick it under the broiler until melty, and voila! Nothing fussy—just good, simple snacks while you get to know each other better.
For Your Main Squeeze: It's been a while, but not so long that you can phone it in. There's an expectation of something, perhaps something awesome. Don't screw this up.
Start with Champagne. Wait, I thought this was an article about cheese? It is, but start with the Champagne. Real Champagne, and if you can find a grower Champagne, even better. Nothing pairs with cheese like bubbly. Bubbly is a great way to start everything—why do you think God invented mimosas? Those bubbles are going to work through the fat in the cheese and make your whole night go from good to great.
Langres is a cheese produced in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France, and it's meant to be eaten with Champagne. These little cylinders look wrinkly and brainy, but they're just a little milky, and the texture goes from chalky in the middle to dense and fudgy close to the rind.
Next, grab a jar of preserves. Check the label. Is the first ingredient fruit? Many jams and preserves load up on sugar and pectin, but a good preserve will be mostly fruit. Some of my favorite brands are Inna Jam, Blue Chair, Robert Lambert, and June Taylor. They're pricier than Smuckers, but this isn't the day to cheap out.
Champagne plus Langres plus strawberry preserves is a slam dunk combination. The best part of the Langres is that you don't need to put it on anything—cut a wedge out of the round, hit it with a dollop of jam, and away you go. The delicate flavors of this cheese won't miss the salty, buttery cracker. Make a mess with your fingers? Oh, you'll figure out what to do.
For When You Need to Spice Things Up: This is a food blog, not a romance advice column. If you want your honey to play bashful Bavarian milkmaid while you're the randy shepherd...I'm not here to judge, but I don't want to be a part of it. However, Valentine's Day does present an opportunity to take your romantic cheese eating to the next level.
Usually I'm not a huge fan of triple creme bries. They're not bad; I just don't find them all that interesting. But for Valentine's Day night, you're going to need a triple creme. At our cheese counter, we find ultra-rich Brillat Savarin to be the most consistently decadent. Here comes the bad news: you're also going to need fresh truffles. If you can't find a fresh truffle, or they're out of your budget, sliced ones packed in oil will suffice. You're also going to need a tub of mascarpone cheese and a container of honeycomb.
Buy the whole wheel of cheese. You're not going to be able to eat it all, but that doesn't matter. Cut the wheel of brie horizontally through the middle and shave the truffles over the inside. Cover the layer of truffles with mascarpone and reassemble your wheel. You now have an incredibly expensive and obscene wheel of cheese. It will be oozing and falling in on itself, and you're going to slather it on a warm loaf of bread.
Honeycomb is the most luxurious way to eat honey. Cut up think chunks of honeycomb and watch as it cascades down the toasty bread. Creamy, sweet, and yes, incredibly messy. If you don't know what to do next with these treats, then perhaps the magic really is gone.
Let's face it—the real charm of Valentine's Day comes from being somewhere comfortable with someone you love. Surely a good chunk of cheese will make it even better. Just remember that it'll give you epic stink breath, so be sure to brush those chops before moving on to anything more intimate. Good luck, and hopefully your pick up lines won't be your only cheesy move this year.
About the author: Benjamin Roberts sells cheese, eats cheese, dreams about cheese and runs a burgeoning Minnesota cheese empire France 44 & St Paul Cheese. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or tumblr.