My Rouses Everyday, July & August 2018
When the time came for me to get married, no one was surprised when I planned the entire weekend via a very detailed spreadsheet. In particular, I was obsessed with the food for the rehearsal pig roast, the cocktail hour and the sit-down dinner that concluded with a cheese course before dessert. Also, no one was surprised that the one thing I outsourced was the wedding cake. I asked my mom if she would deal with it. The poor woman crisscrossed two states meeting bakers, tasting cakes, and calling and emailing me with the pros and cons of one vs. another. Each time she solicited my input, it was all I could do not to say, “Thank you so much for the effort — I couldn’t care less about the cake.” What can I say? I’m not a sweets person.
It wasn’t until after I had celebrated my own wedding that it occurred to me I could have asked my caterer to make a cheese cake. I don’t mean the New York style cheesecake with a graham cracker crust — I mean a gorgeous, layered stack of cheese wheels in myriad colors of snow white, ochre, nut brown — maybe even pearlescent blue — all duded up with flowers to match my bouquet or with herbs to match our groomsmen’s boutonnières. Instead of smashing buttercream on our noses my husband and I could have served one another a perfect sliver of cheese, topped with a fig slice or drizzle of honey. That would have been my style. Even on our anniversary I’d rather celebrate with a tiny tower of fluffy, buttery white cheeses than a chocolate mousse or bread pudding. Call me crazy, but I’ll take cheese over cake pretty much anytime. And I know I’m not alone!
The beauty of a cake made of cheese is that you don’t have to choose between it and a “real” cake: You can have your cake and eat cheese, too. Cheese cakes are beautifully scalable since cheese comes in both teeny rounds (as small as two ounces — practically bite-size) and enormous wheels (the biggest run about 180 pounds, which would be enough to anchor a cake for a college reunion). As long as you can buy whole wheels of cheese, you can make a cake at home simply by unwrapping the cheese and stacking softer wheels atop harder wheels, with the biggest on the bottom and the smallest on the top.
The crafty among us can up the game by decorating cheese cakes with fruit, flowers, herbs or nuts. The foodies out there can take a cake made of cheese and turn it into the ultimate DIY buffet, with garnishes and accoutrements that guests can add to their taste. I’m imagining bowls of fresh fruits (berries, pitted or maraschino cherries, slices of apple and pear, grapes, figs); platters of dried fruits and nuts (dates, apricots, figs, Marcona almonds, macadamias, hazelnuts); a tray of spreads (fig paste, cherry preserves, quince paste, chutney); a massive chunk of honeycomb for folks to dig a chunk out of; even unexpected garnishes like dark chocolate and nut brittle.
Cheese cakes can be as interactive or full-service as you like, with guests either cutting their own pieces or helping themselves to portions sliced by a caterer (or a very loving family member.)
Logistically speaking, the most important things to remember about cakes made of cheese are:
Quantity: Don’t go crazy and find yourself with a hundred pounds of leftover cheese. A pound of cheese weighs 16 ounces. You should plan for three-four ounces per person if the cheese is the primary food, and one-two ounces per person if the cheese is being served after a meal or at a loaded cocktail hour.
Remember, you can create height and the appearance of bounty by using risers, cake plates or empty cheese boxes (if you like a rustic feel). You don’t have to rely solely on the cheese for height! A very affordable trick is to use glass votive candleholders between layers for extra height. You can also hide them with the decoration around the perimeter of the wheel.
A quick guide:
|# of People||Total Weight
(after meal food)
|12||2.25-3 lbs||1-1.5 lbs|
|50||9-12.5 lbs||3-6 lbs|
|125||23.5-30 lbs||8-15.5 lbs|
|200||37.5-50 lbs||12.5-25 lbs|
|300||56-75 lbs||18.75-37.5 lbs|
|500||93.75-125 lbs||31.25-62.5 lbs|
Variety: You may be obsessed with blue cheese or hate Brie, but chances are your guests will appreciate a range. Also, remember that (generally speaking) hard cheeses are made in bigger wheels and soft cheeses are made in smaller wheels. So cakes for smaller groups will have more soft and semisoft wheels (or layers) than cakes made for larger groups.
Finally, when it comes to variety, the wheels at the top of your cake will be smaller and won’t serve as many people. If your goal is for every person to taste every cheese, you’ll want to get extras of the little cheeses at the top.
Temperature: Serve your cake at room temperature, but know that all cheese, especially soft, creamy styles, will start to get runny and greasy if they’re too warm for too long. Ideally, put the cake out one and a half to two hours before it’s going to be eaten so guests can admire it. This is the perfect amount of time for wheels of cheese to warm up, without guests being served a puddle of goo.