There aren’t many foods as alluring and elegant as cheese — and that makes it a glorious gift for any occasion, especially for the holidays. You may wish to add to its appeal with an artful presentation: an artisanal cheese accompanied by a loaf of crusty bread, bound together with a silky, red bow; three perfectly paired cheeses (such as a Camembert, a blue, and an Asiago) in a beautifully handcrafted basket; or a specialty cheese with an array of fruit and nuts on a wood or marble cheese board.
Any way you slice it, cheese is a thoughtful gift: Not only is it a gastronomical delight, cheese is endowed with bountiful nutrients and health benefits. Many cheeses are an excellent source of calcium and a good source of high-quality protein and phosphorus. Depending on the variety, cheese may also provide zinc and vitamins A and B12. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee concluded that adequate intake of milk and milk products (including cheese) is associated with improved bone health — especially in children and adolescents — lower blood pressure in adults and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Several varieties of cheese (Cheddar, Gouda, blue, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, Swiss and processed) have been shown to reduce the development and progression of dental caries. Although cheese ranks first as a source of saturated fat in the U.S. diet, cheese contains potentially beneficial types of fat such as conjugated linoleic acid and sphingolipids.
What’s more, you can personalize a gift of cheese to perfectly suit the recipient.
- For the gluten intolerant: Choose natural cheeses. Check the label to make sure ingredients such as flavorings are not sourced from wheat, barley or rye.
- For the lactose intolerant: Choose Cheddar, Swiss, Monterey Jack or mozzarella.
- For the sodium savvy: Choose Swiss, Monterey Jack, Port de Salut or Parmesan. Lower sodium varieties of Colby-Jack, provolone, Muenster, mozzarella or Cheddar are also good options.
- For the waist watcher: Choose Parmesan. Romano or part-skim mozzarella. Lower fat options of Cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, Colby, Muenster or provolone are also good options.
- For the bone builder: Choose Swiss, Cheddar, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Gouda, queso blanco, or Colby.
Kevin Cronin, the executive chef at Dusty’s Cellar in Okemos, Mich., suggests purchasing locally-crafted cheese to give as gifts. “Our customers like to show relatives in other states how good the local cheeses are,” said Cronin, adding that Brie is their best-seller. Zingerman’s Creamery in Ann Arbor, Mich. offers a list of suggested cheeses for the holidays that includes a Vacherin Mont d’Or for special occasions and entertaining, a raw milk Stilton since it pairs well with Port, and Gouda because it’s an “easy eating,” crowd-pleasing cheese.