Friday, November 4, 2011

A Wisconsin Thanksgiving Cheese Board

Here’s a little secret about fall spices like nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon: they pair beautifully with cheese. It makes sense when you think about topping pumpkin pie with whipped cream, or grating nutmeg over a snifter of eggnog.

Last month, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board invited me to put together a Thanksgiving cheese board using cheeses from my home state. How could I resist? Wisconsin produces some of my favorite Cheddars, Alpines, and Blues, so I ordered a dozen samples I wanted to try, then set about to creating.

I also came up with 2 recipes for pairings -- Maple Balsamic Pecans and slow-cooked "Drunk" Figs. You'll find the recipes at the bottom of the post. 

Cheese Selections:

I like the first cheese on a cheese plate to be creamy and mellow. Port Salue has a soft texture, and its orange rind offers a festive burst of color. You could also lead off with Les Frères or Petit Frère. 

Maybe you noticed my earlier post about this curious aged Gouda, studded with cloves and a hint of cumin. It tastes like the holidays, and it pairs nicely with slow-cooked figs and a snifter of brandy.

I've wanted to try this blue-less blue since I saw it win a medal at the American Cheese Society this summer. It tastes like strong Cheddar with blues playing in the background.   

Tilston Point
In winter, I love to end a cheese plate with a gutsy Stilton-esque number. This strong blue from Hook's  pairs well with nuts and figs.

Serve this cheese plate before dinner with a round of Old Fashioned cocktails or dark beer; after dinner, break out the sherry or port. Baguette rounds, oat crackers and amaretti cookies make lovely accompaniments, too.

Maple Balsamic Pecans with Sea Salt
Servings: 4-6


3 tablespoons maple syrup, or brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 cup shelled pecan halves
Sea salt

Cooking directions:

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 325˚ F.  Combine maple syrup and balsamic vinegar in a small mixing bowl, then add pecans and stir until well coated. Spread mixture onto parchment-lined tray and bake for 15 minutes, until pecans are bubbling and browned.

Sprinkle sea salt over warm pecans. Once the nuts are cool, store them in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Drunk Figs
Servings: 8-10


1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup honey
2 8-ounce bags of dried Black Mission figs, halved
2 tablespoons orange zest, julienned
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup brandy
2 cinnamon sticks
2 cloves

Cooking directions:

These are easiest to prepare in a slow cooker – they take 4 hours on high and make the house smell amazing. If you prepare them on the stove top, use a lidded saucepan and cook them for 3-4 hours at a low simmer.

In a slow cooker or sauce pan, combine boiling water and honey, stirring until blended.  Then add halved figs, orange zest, orange juice, brandy and spices. The figs will plump up as they cook and are best stored overnight in their juices before serving. Refrigerated, these keep almost indefinitely.  


  1. Drunk figs? Holy crap. Thanks for the great ideas!

  2. Sounds delicious! I can't wait to try all these cheeses and your two recipes for pecans and figs. Yum! :)

  3. Thanks for sharing! I love balsamic vinegar, so I'm gonna make these for the holidays! My dad always used to buy me figs to snack on...I thought I was weird. So, I love the drunk'n figs idea too.

  4. I love balsamic vinegar, so I'm gonna make these for the holidays! Also, my dad used to buy me figs to snack on... I thought I was weird! I can't wait to make the drunk'n recipe too! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Great post--cheese ideas and the recipes too. Brandy and figs? Oh my. The clove gouda sounds intriguing. Have you tried Carr Valley's Marisa? So good! Thank you for introducing me to some new WI options. I've been in a Pleasant Ridge rut for too long.

  6. Yes, Bob. Marisa is a delish cheese. Haven't thought about it in some time. Thanks for the reminder.