Imbolc also known as Imbolg, Oimelc and a few other names, is the Celtic feast day that celebrates the coming of the spring!
It is considered one of the fire festivals of the wheel of the year, so you will find candles are a main staple in most rituals, honoring the sun and inviting it back into our homes. There are several different ways you can celebrate Imbolc, including working with the Goddess Brigid but this piece focuses on the culinary aspects of the Sabbat.
My favorite name for Imbolc is Oimelc which means, “Ewe’s milk”. What do we do with ewe’s milk? Why, we make CHEESE of course! Cheese and dairy are food sources that are incorporated into this particular holiday’s menu planning. You can add cream to a sauce, for a richer flavor. It can go into potatoes for a silky mash, or substitute with sour cream for a lower calorie option. Loaded baked potatoes topped with shredded cheddar and bacon are also crowd pleasers.
I find that the easiest and quickest way to include cheese into any gathering is with a cheese board! You can choose several options and possibly introduce someone to a new flavor they’ve never experienced before. This style of serving makes for a cozy environment that bring people together and breaks the ice, getting the conversation going. It’s a great tool for brainstorming and bringing people together (Food magic tip!)
So how do we choose what cheeses to put out? I suggest some basic and neutral ones while throwing in a couple of funky ( sometimes literally) choices for the bold and adventurous. There are many categories and flavor profiles of cheese, not to mention the types of milk used to make them (cow, sheep , goat) so I put together a short list of some basic information to get you comfortable when staring at the cheese counter and not knowing where to begin.
Fresh Cheeses : The term fresh is used to describe age, so fresh cheeses are not matured. Be aware that the shelf life on these cheeses will be shorter, so remember to use them before they spoil.
Examples : cottage cheese, cream cheese, farmer’s cheese, queso fresco, ricotta, mozzarella di bufala, burrata and Chevre (goat cheese)
Soft Cheeses : have a spreadable consistency, many come with an outer rind. These cheeses should be stored in wax paper, not plastic wrap to preserve flavor but should also be consumed within a week or opening as they do tend to spoil faster than other cheeses.. Best served at room temperature, with crackers or bread, making them excellent choices for a board
Examples : Brie, camembert, boursault, brillat savarin, humboldt fog, robiola lombardia, stracchino, Taleggio
Semi soft cheeses : have a sturdier texture than the soft cheeses, but can also come with a rind or covered with wax. Some of these cheeses are used for cooking but can also be excellent for a board as many are familiar.
Examples : Havarti, muenster, jack, colby, provolone, gouda, fontina, haloumi, feta, morbier, port salut, queso casero, oaxaca
Semi hard cheeses : typically aged from 1-6 months but less than a year. They may be covered in wax or have a hard exterior that is most times edible (please check). When grated or sliced, melt well and used for cooking.
Examples: Cheddar, swiss cheese, emmentaler, gruyere, edam, comte, manchego, raclette
Hard cheeses : characterized as having a nutty flavor and a crumbly texture due to the low moisture content, as they are aged for at least 1-3 years or sometimes even longer. These cheeses develop a rind that is too hard to eat but can be added to sauces, stews or soups for added flavor.
Examples: parmigiano-reggiano, pecorino, grana padano, roncal, cotija, asiago
Blue veined cheese : cheese that has been ripened with cultures of the mold penicillium. The veins are created when the cheese is pierced (needles, skewers, rods) allowing oxygen to reach the mold, which gives it that blue, or blueish-grey color. Have a pungent aroma with a sharp and sometimes salty flavor.
Examples: gorgonzola, roquefort, stilton, danish blue, maytag, cabrales, cashel blue
Now that we have some ideas about cheese types let’s not forget all the other things you can serve it with. Think crackers, bread and breadsticks for spreadable cheeses. Accompaniments like honey, fruit preserves and fruit pastes also make great pairings for several of the cheeses above, especially the semi/hard ones. Fresh and dried fruits along with nuts and olives provide sweetness, natural decor as well as yet another layer of flavor and textures. Cured meats are also great accompaniments to any board, get creative and try new things.
Kitchen Magic Tip : Cheese boards have the ability to break the ice and summon up conversations! They’re great at bringing people together. They are also awesome for projects and brainstorming meetings where you need to pool your ideas to get things done.
Happy Cooking Conjurings!
Made a cheeseboard or plate? share it on instagram and tag me @gourmetwitch and #foodmagic. I love seeing people making magic in their kitchens!
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