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Dried dates stuffed with cheese and nuts.

It's like a United Nations of Cheese. There's cheese from France (St. Marcelin, Brie); England (Cheddar, Sage Derby); Italy (Gorgonzola, Parmigiano Reggiano); Switzerland (Emmental); and Holland (Prima Donna Maturo).

And until Aug. 14, they're all on sale-up to 30-percent off their usual prices-at Marketplace by Rustan's and at Rustan's supermarkets.

What an opportunity to try the different cheeses of the world! And there's a method to such an adventure, says chef Jonas Ng, a cheese aficionado himself and chef of the French restaurant Le Jardin.

'You can order small quantities first, say, 50 grams,' he tells the group of media people assembled in Marketplace by Rustan's at Central Square, Bonifacio High Street in Taguig. 'Try them and see which ones you like. Then you can come back and buy more of your favorites.'

At Rustan's and Marketplace, the sales people at the cheese counter are well-informed about the products, says CEO Pierre Olivier Deplanck. They can cut portions as small as 50 grams for customers, depending on the type of cheese.

There are many ways by which cheeses can be categorized. There's young cheese, aged cheese, hard cheeses like Gouda and Parmigiano Reggiano, soft ones like Camembert, and the blues (Roquefort, Stilton).

As many as 120 to 270 types of cheeses are available at Marketplace and Rustan's at any given point, says Deplanck. On a cloudy Tuesday afternoon, here are some of those we tried:

Goat cheese. Light and creamy, goat cheese can be pungent. The ring of herbs that encircled the one we tasted added extra flavor and aroma. Goat cheese, as well as sheep's cheese, may be the most agreeable cheese for those who are lactose-intolerant because they have a different constitution from cow's milk.

Madrigal. Like Emmental cheese from Switzerland, this French cheese is characterized by a hole-y appearance. Made in the French area near Switzerland, it is aged and has a slight nutty taste.

Parmigiano Reggiano. Crumbly in texture, this cheese melts beautifully but can be used in other ways as well. It enhances the taste of soups and meat courses, is perfect for grating onto salads, pastas and risottos, and can be paired with cold cuts, dried fruits and nuts.

Ossau Iraty. Because it's made from sheep's milk, it tastes somewhat like the Spanish cheese Manchego. It has a creamy, buttery flavor and is made with unpasteurized milk, which makes it slightly stronger in flavor than cheese made with pasteurized milk.

Sage Derby. If you ever want to try green cheese, this is it. The sage gives an otherwise austere English cheese a strong herbal flavor. This goes well with rose and Provencal wines.

Guinness Cheddar. The simple Cheddar cheese gets a heavy dose of stout from the Guinness beer that's incorporated into it. The beer also gives the cheese a dark brown rind.

St. Marcelin. Creamy, and very much like Camembert and Brie, this French cheese is rustic and has a nutty and fruity flavor. Its creaminess also makes it a spreadable cheese. It goes well with Pinot Grigio and Alsatian wines.

Chef Ng suggests putting a block of St. Marcelin in the microwave to let it melt slightly. Then use it as a dip for crackers. Also good as a dip for crudites.

Cambozola. This is a cross between a Brie and a blue cheese. Because it's not as sharp as the French Roquefort or the Spanish Cabrales, Cambozola is a good introduction to the world of blue cheeses. Softly ripened, bordering between sweetness and saltiness, this is ideally paired with Alsatian wines and with sweet wines like Muscat, Riesling and the Canadian Icewine.

Here's a recipe I developed using Cambozola cheese. The sweetness of the dried dates balances the slight pungency of Cambozola, while the nuts add crunch and contrast to the stickiness of the dates.

The Fete du Fromage (cheese festival) is ongoing until Aug. 14 at Markeplace by Rustan's, located at Rockwell Power Plant Mall, Makati, and Central Square, Bonifacio High Street, Taguig. Discounts on cheeses are also available in Rustan's Supermarket in Metro Manila, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro.

Dried dates stuffed with cheese and nuts

1/2 c (about 160 g) Cambozola cheese

1/3 c roughly chopped nuts

30-40 medium or large size seedless dried dates

Cocktail toothpicks (optional)

Heat the cheese in the microwave oven for about 20 seconds, just enough to make it spreadable (do not overheat or the cheese will melt).

Mix the cheese and nuts together. Cut open the dates on one side.

Spread some of the cheese and nut mixture on each date. Close the dates. If desired, top each stuffed date with a cocktail toothpick. Arrange on a serving platter and serve as an appetizer.

Cook's tips:

The best dates to use for this are the large ones like Medjool dates. These are available in specialty shops and delicatessens like Santis.

If desired, you can use sharper types of blue cheese such as Gorgonzola or Roquefort instead of Cambozola.

Do not use salted nuts as these will clash with the slight saltiness of the cheese.

You can prepare these bite-size appetizers well ahead of serving time. Keep in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Aug 11, 2016
Words:998
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