gifts

The Best Gifts for Cheese Enthusiasts, According to Cheesemongers and Cheesemakers

Photo: The Strategist. Photos: Retailers

Cheese is similar to coffee and wine — as in, the people who love it, really, really love it. It’s hard to argue with the comforting pleasures of a golden grilled cheese, the allure of a creamy orb of burrata, the salty satisfaction of a pungent Pecorino. But if you’re looking for something special to give the cheese lover in your life, you may want to go with more than just a chunk of the stuff. With that in mind, we asked more than a dozen cheese experts, from indie cheesemongers to shop owners to authors, for the best cheese-centric gifts to give this season. From practical (beautiful boards and knives they’ll actually use) to educational (virtual tastings) to playful (a “Big Cheese” hat), there’s something for every curd obsessive on your list.

Cheese subscriptions and tasting boxes

This assortment from Artifaqt, a family-run wood shop in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, includes a keep-forever cheese board that’s as appealing as the consumables it comes with. “I love the idea of giving someone a board that they can keep, along with some memorable pairings like chocolate and blue cheese,” says Tenaya Darlington (aka Madame Fromage), author of Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese and cheese director at Philadelphia wine bar Tria. She likes serving “handmade cheeses on boards that have been made by hand,” whether for holiday, birthday, or wedding gifts.

Darlington really likes cheese subscriptions as a fun way to learn about cheese at home: “I’m partial to Curdbox from Boston because it offers great pairings and good notes,” she says.

I’m lucky to count Saxelby Cheesemongers as my neighbor at Chelsea Market, and I am obsessed with nearly everything they do,” says Matt Gallira, founder and CEO of Big Mozz. “Their monthly cheese club makes for a beautiful gift.” Darlington is also a Saxelby fan, and she’s currently eyeing its Butter Collection: “I can’t imagine a better gift to receive in bed — on toast, of course,” she says.

Amanda Parker, managing director of Bay Area cheesemaker Cowgirl Creamery, suggests this unique (albeit pricey) cheese-and-much-more option.Lady & Larder is doing a lovely job with gift baskets, especially the mixed bushels of cheese, California produce, and seasonal flowers,” she says.

Parker is also excited about this new release on Food52 of Cowgirl Creamery’s own cheeses. “It includes almost everything we make,” she says — well-known triple creams, fresh cheeses, a good melting cheese called Wagon Wheel, some smaller-production varieties that are generally harder to get your hands on, cottage cheese, and crème fraîche. This is especially nice, she notes, for people on the East Coast, since Cowgirl’s products can be harder to find there.

Cheese boards and platters

“Slate provides a sharp visual contrast with cheese, and these boards come with chalk that makes it easy to label the cheeses you and your guests will be eating,” says Mateo Kehler, co-owner of Vermont-based cheesemaker Jasper Hill Farm. Jessica Little, co-owner of Georgia-based cheesemaker Sweet Grass Dairy, also recommends Brooklyn Slate’s boards: “I love presenting cheeses on a darker background for a more dramatic look,” she says. Both Kehler and Little like that Brooklyn Slate uses stone from a third-generation family quarry in Vermont. In general, stone boards “are the easiest to clean up, especially if the person you’re gifting it to likes soft cheeses like Bries and Camemberts, which tend to be messier,” explains Molly Browne, education manager for Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin Cheese and an American Cheese Society–certified cheese professional.

Kehler also suggests these “beautiful circular and rectangular stone clay serving boards with a white glaze, if you prefer something more versatile” than slate. Kurt Beecher Dammeier, founder and CEO of Seattle-based Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, opts for white ceramic platters, whether for cheese or other foods. “Unlike some wood or marble boards, a ceramic platter won’t stain from oils or acids and is very easy to clean in the dishwasher, which is especially handy when you’re serving a really soft cheese, like Vermont Creamery’s Bonne Bouche,” Dammeier says. “I also look for platters that are flat to the edge. This gives you the full surface of the platter to work with, versus using something like a dinner plate that will push your cheeses and accompaniments toward the center of the plate.”

For something a little more whimsical, look to local artisans. “Ceramicist Alison Evans is famous for her pieces that recall sea life, and her medium and large oval plates from the Razor Clam series are ideal for presenting cheese logs, small rounds, and pyramids,” says Axelrod. She also recommends the “functional works of art” from Duane Butler as well as the handmade serving boards by La Marée Art.

Parker likes this local Oakland woodworker’s round board, “not only for the warmth it provides for a cheese board but because it also functions as a piece of art — I hang it on the wall of my kitchen whenever it’s not in use,” she says. “Since it’s a rather sizable, circular board, I like to center my cheese plate around a focal round of cheese, like Cowgirl’s Mt. Tam or one of the domestic bark-wrapped cheeses that are so good this time of year, like Uplands Rush Creek Reserve or Jasper Hill’s Winnimere.”

Gallira has been ordering Brooklyn butcher blocks for years as gifts and to use in his own kitchen. “Nils and his team do amazing work, and their shop in Brooklyn is a woodworking paradise,” he says. Although pricier than the more common long-grain boards, these end-grain styles with brickwork patterning should be more durable and long-lasting, and they’ll supposedly stay more sanitary because of end graining’s self-healing properties.

Cheese knives

Dammeier likes this colorful seven-piece set, explaining that “cheese knives are a fun way to show a little personality in your presentation, especially when you like to serve cheeses as I do, on a white platter.” It includes everything you need for a cheese board, she says, “and the design is fun and elegant.”

A good option for outdoorsy types, “this Opinel picnic knife is a must-have accessory,” Parker says. “It’s portable, useful for more than just cheese, and can handle everything from a softer cheese to a super-aged one.” Kehler is also a fan of Opinel’s “beautifully handcrafted knives.”

Parker calls this stylish trio a super-luxury” cheese accessory, but, she adds, “I think the tortoiseshell is gorgeous, and I would be absolutely delighted to have these in my own home.”

Both Kehler and Little recommend Boska, a Dutch company that should be on more people’s radar,” Kehler says. “They have a professional catalog that cheesemongers go gaga over — not least for the great photography and over-the-top dramatic shots featuring culinary stars — as well as a wealth of cheese-related knives, spreaders, slicers, and more for home cooks,” Kehler adds.

Cheese gadgets

Cheese Grotto
From $125
From $125

“We like to remind consumers that it’s safe to store artisan cheese at room temperature,” says Kehler, who keeps a “handsome” cheese grotto in Jasper Hill Farm’s office that is constantly stocked with “ripe and ready cheeses we’re nibbling on.” Besides its handsome appearance, a grotto will make sure “cheese is at the perfect ambient temperature and humidity to keep it pristine until serving,” Browne adds. If a fancy mini-fridge exclusively for cheese seems up their alley but just slightly too extravagant, a wine cooler or fridge works too. That’s what Judy Schad, owner of the Indiana goat-cheese brand Capriole Farms, told us she uses for storing cheese at home.

Similarly, Little says her glass dome from Williams-Sonoma “lives on our kitchen island,” she says. “We usually have one or two cheeses in there year-round for easy access.”

For a cheese enthusiast who already owns multiple boards and knives, consider a cheese curler.I just bought this girolle with a dome so I can make cheese ‘rosettes’ for the holidays,” Darlington says. “It’s designed for a specific Swiss cheese that I love, Tête de Moine. You use the girolle like a little guillotine to trim the Tête, and the rotating blade produces these delightful rosettes that you can use on cheese boards. It’s a great party trick. Plus, the rosettes melt on your tongue in the most delightful way.”

“I couldn’t live without my raclette party grill,” Darlington says. “You can sit around it all evening long, melting cheese in little pans and roasting sausages on the oval grill — it’s a dream.” She especially likes that it requires so little prep. “My grandparents, who were Swiss, used to host raclette parties around the holidays with a raclette grill just like this,” she adds.

Parker thinks a fondue set would be super fun for anyone who loves cheese, inspired by an annual ski trip she takes where fondue is always on the menu. “Look, it’s been a rough year, and hot cheese is delicious,” she says. “Just make sure to have good melting varieties, and add a dash a nutmeg at the end.”

Cheese merch and miscellany

Lizzie Roller, associate director at Murray’s Cheese in NYC, loves a good cheese-themed holiday ornament, which she calls “the star of my tree.” As she explains, “We cheese lovers are a unique bunch — best to shout it from the rooftop.” Or the treetop, as it were.

“Lord knows we love mac and cheese here at Murray’s, and I personally love a good funky sock so these check both boxes and make for a unique gift,” Roller says. “Try not to smile when you slide these on your feet. It’s impossible.”

For the truly obsessed, Philly artist Mike Geno’s cheese portraits are gorgeous and geeky,” says Liz Thorpe, a cheesemonger and the author of The Book of Cheese and The Cheese Chronicles. Kehler is also a fan of Geno’s work. He adds that Geno “has been shopping for years at Di Bruno Bros. 9th Street Italian Market store for high-quality ingredients and inspiration.”

Parker is a fan of the Murray’s Cheese merch. “I couldn’t tell you how many of these I went through during my tenure there, but I am pretty certain my dad has at least three,” she says of this embroidered baseball cap.

For the cheese enthusiast in the making, this “I’m Soft, and a Little Bit Stinky” getup comes recommended by Kehler. “The Cheese School of San Francisco was founded by my dear, long-deceased friend Daphne Zepos, but the school continues to thrive and I love gifting their onesie to new parents,” he says.

“I would be thrilled to get a personalized mac-and-cheese spoon or cheese candle from Etsy,” says Little.

Cheese books

Anne Saxelby, the founder of Saxelby Cheesemongers, published this beautiful book last year. I so admire Anne’s relaxed, relatable approach to understanding and appreciating cheese,” says Axelrod. “Her passion for industry comes through in her writing, and this is a book that cheese lovers of any level will find valuable.” Kehler calls it a “brisk, personalized primer on the subject” by a “a true champion of American cheeses.” And Parker notes that it’s made all the more important due to Saxelby’s recent passing. “She was a pioneer in so many ways,” Parker says. “In her honor, this book is definitely something to highlight this year.”

“A family member gifted me this a few years ago and it is just stunning,” Roller says. “The photography is beautiful, Tia has such great recommendations for pairings, and the book gives a great deep dive into different cheeses,” she adds, and though it “might be overwhelming for the cheese novice, it’s an amazing gift for the aficionado.” Parker is also a fan of this “gorgeous” title.

For the person who’s always Instagramming their charcuterie boards, consider this recent release. “By the wonder woman behind @cheesebynumbers and @thatcheeseplate, this gorgeous book breaks the board-building process into easy-to-follow steps,” says Axelrod. Ken Monteleone, owner of Fromagination cheese shop in Madison, Wisconsin, says he “gets a lot of inspiration” from this presentation-centric title (he’s especially fond of the concept of “creating a salami river down your cheese board”).

Sean Hartwig, cheesemonger at Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Michigan, loves this “fantastic deep dive into one of the characteristics we treasure most in cheese: the careful use of unpasteurized milk, with all the terroir that can bring to thoughtfully made cheeses,” he explains. Kehler is also a fan of the book, a “beautifully written case for the importance and cultural significance of artisan cheese.”

$16

Or pick up this classic by famous cheesemonger Steven Jenkins. “It’s hard to top Cheese Primer,” Schad says. “It was published in the 1990s, and of course the American cheese industry has just gone crazy since then; there’s hundreds more [makers and kinds] now! But the book is filled with great histories of cheeses from Europe.”

At Big Mozz, we’re obsessed with tracing where our dairy comes from, and as a result we have a weird reverence for the humble Jersey cow and, of course, the water buffalo,” Gallira says. “I love this book so much! It’s the perfect gift for someone who gets excited about learning where their food comes from, likes photography, or gets really jazzed about farm animals.”

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The Best Cheese Gifts, According to Cheese Professionals