Summertime encourages lazy days by the pool with mixed drinks bearing festive oriental umbrellas. And then there are, of course, vacation getaways and wedding receptions. But what about cheese? Jill Erber says that cheese can offer many entertaining possibilities during the hot and hazy days of August.
“The summer months are a great time to eat cheese,” Erber said. “And there are lots of options.”
For almost two years, Erber has been known as “the Cheese Lady,” a local celebrity of sorts on Del Ray’s Mount Vernon Avenue. Her boutique for cheese in the 2400 block — known as “Cheesetique” — offers an array of cheeses from around the world. Merely walking into the store is a lusty and raw experience filled with scent of moldy goodness.
“Some of the kids hold their noses,” Erber said, waiving to a friend walking by on the avenue. “People who like cheese come in here and take a deep breath.”
ENTERTAINING OPTIONS can be expanded dramatically with the right use of cheese, and Erber has a variety of selections that could enhance any warm-weather occasion. For example, look at that that cheeseburger fresh off the grill. Is it going to get a piece of boring old mysteriously yellow cheese product on it?
“Blue cheese is great way to spice up a cheeseburger,” Erber said. “Or a garlic gouda could add a garlic flavor.”
The key to using cheese during the sweltering days of summer is freshness, the Cheese Lady says, adding that people should avoid cheeses that are aged, heavy or oily. That platter for backyard guests could include use some fresh goat cheese with lavender buds and fennel pollen. Fresh mozzarella can be sliced into coin-sized wedges and served with tomatoes, ground peppercorns, sea salt and a respectable olive oil.
“People tend to think of cheese as a formal thing,” Erber said. “But it can be very informal too.”
PICKNICKING CAN CAUSE PROBLEMS for some of the fresher cheeses that don’t travel well or hold up to the heat. For that trip to Wolftrap, Erber recommends, take a middle-aged gouda. Or, if you are feeling more exotic, get a fresh goat cheese known as “garrotxa.”
“It’s got a nice spongy texture,” Erber said. “And it won’t get real stinky.”
Adding condiments to cheeses can lend a touch of whimsy to a picnic cheese platter, giving guests an array of choices. From honey to chutney to barbeque sauce, dips and spreads can add new dimensions to fresh summertime cheese selections.
“That’s a trend in cheese service,” Erber said. “It’s a great way to mix it up.”
AUTUMN CHEESES are the best, Erber said, because of what went into them. Milk-bearing animals spend all summer eating fresh herbs, flowers and grass. So their autumn milk is an expression of summer’s rich bounty — a tasty treat in the hand a skilled cheesemaker.
“Without a doubt, autumn is the best time for cheese,” Eber said. “We get very excited around here at that time of year.”
With the next season moving in, Erber is already looking forward to the fall cheese selection. As temperatures drop, customers to her boutique get more daring about entertaining selections. For your upcoming fall reception, Erber recommends a soft-ripened cheese like brie or a semisoft vacherin.
“The milk is going to taste like what the animal has eaten,” Erber said. “So this is communicated in the cheese.”