I love this time of year: summer grills are still afire, football’s in the air and the temperature is finally getting pleasant again. Add some snacks, beverages and cheese and it makes for a great chilled-out weekend. Add friends and you’ve got the perfect fall party.
A friend of mine invited me over to watch the big game with the gang last week and, naturally, he asked if I minded bringing cheese for the festivities. I know he was thinking I’d show up with my standard elegant cheese board, so I decided to mix it up a bit. I’d supply the cheese, but not the cheese he expected: I’d bring Football Cheeses. (But not this kind.)
When I rolled up to his place, the first thing I whipped out was some halloumi, a traditional goat-and-sheep’s milk blend from Cyprus. This is the perfect “grilling cheese” due to its high melting point, so I browned it on the charcoal grill along with some peppers, onions and mushrooms (all slightly charred for flavor) and added a drizzle of lemon-thyme vinaigrette. This is an easy dish to prepare – if you’re already planning on making burgers, just toss the cheese and veggies on the grill as it heats up for a satisfying appetizer. Tip: remember to go easy on the salt, since halloumi already has a distinctly salty tang.
Next, I pulled a big tub of pimento cheese out of my goodie bag. I confess I didn’t make my own, though it’s almost effortless: shred some good cheddar, mix it with mayo and add seasoning. But I was in laid-back mode so I secured my favorite version from Sweet Grass Dairy, made with their Thomasville Tomme, Duke’s mayo and roasted red peppers. After a bit of hesitation – the crowd couldn’t believe The Cheese Guy would bring cheese mixed with mayo to their party – they devoured a pound and a half of this award-winning spread in about 15 minutes. It was like watching Joey Chestnut eat hotdogs on the 4th of July. I stood back out of the way of the tub in fear for my fingers.
We had a couple of rounds of other tasty snacks before I started in on dessert. I halved some fresh local peaches, brushed them with butter and threw them on the grill. When they started to soften a touch, I flipped them over and slid a chunk of Le Chevrot into the pit hole of each. With a pure white interior and a tan wrinkly rind, this is one of my favorite French goats’ milk cheeses. As it softened from the heat and slumped into the center, I pulled them off the grill and topped them with a dash of Sauternes wine and a sprinkle of ground toasted pecans. I’ll admit that this was slightly fancy for a game day, but it went with the grilling theme and was light enough to consume after an afternoon of snacking. And just as I thought, everyone said the sweetness of the peach, the lemony cheese, the honeyed wine and the crunch of the pecans made for a memorable treat.
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At the end of the day, my team lost the game; it happens. But I didn’t let it ruin an afternoon of football with good food and great friends.