I fell in love with cheese at my first job out of culinary school. In many restaurants, the pastry department is responsible for cheese plates, and Bouchon was no different. The first time I placed Humboldt Fog in my mouth, my world expanded. A whole new world of flavors and textures lay before me, each with a different story to tell through taste. Unusable scraps became snacks for the pastry team, slathered on warm croissants or scraps of bread.
I love putting together a cheese plate, be it for a party or just for my husband and me on a quiet evening at home. But where do you start and how do you begin to navigate your way through all the different cheeses out there?
Krista's Cheese Plate: Redwood Hill Farm Crottin - Tangy goat's milk cheese Carr Valley Cave Aged Marisa - Hard Sheep's Milk Cheese Sweet Grass Dairy Asher Blue - Salty Blue Cow's Milk Cheese Virginia Chutney Company - Spicy Plum Chutney Candied Cashews Capistranos Bakery French Baguette
I headed over to Wedge & Bottle in Ahwatukee, a small cheese, charcuterie and wine shop, to chat with my friend Krista Daily about how they approach putting together a cheese plate.
The bottom line is that there is no wrong way to put together your cheese plate. It can be diverse or all your favorites. Make your cheese plate your own.
Vary textures. There are so many different textures for cheese. You may heard the words "soft," "semi-firm," "firm," bandied around at the cheese counter, to describe the texture of the cheese. Krista likes to vary textures on her cheese plate.
Variety of milks. A key element to the cheese plates at Wedge & Bottle are to make sure to vary the milks (goat, sheep, cow, or some cheeses have a mix of different milks). Each milk has different characteristics, and by selecting cheeses with different types of milk, it adds another element for your guests.
Create a plate with different depths of flavors. Even in a specific type of cheese, say goat cheese, there can be vastly different flavors. Krista likes to put together different flavors, mixing cheeses in different varieties that run from mild to stronger flavor.
I love the boards that Krista and Troy, her husband and business partner, put together, but there is nothing I love more than a board of all my favorites for a movie night with my husband.
Krista loves to add great addition items to the boards with chutneys, sour pickles, salty nuts, crackers or bread. Again, it can really be anything you love, and often tasting items to see what pairs, it can end up being that a complimentary item or an opposite item. For instance, a tangy goat cheese works well with a sweet jam or honey, proving the opposites pair well together. But then you could have a nutty sheep's milk cheese pair well with salty marcona almonds. It really comes down to tasting and seeing what you like to pair with each item on your board.
Rachel's Cheese Plate:
My random Tuesday cheese plate are cheeses we love plus a new cheese.
Finocchiona Salami - one of our favorites is this fennel salami. It pairs perfectly with a variety of cheese. Bollie's Mollies - A new cheese for us, it takes on a grey/blue mold hue the longer it sits. Delicious! Beemster XO - My husband's favorite cheese. Pairs well with whiskey, which must be why my husband loves it so much. Kunik - One of my favorite cheeses ever. When on a cheese making trip to Vermont, we drove all over New England visiting farms and tasting cheeses, Nettle Meadow Farm's was one of the best visits. Rustic Bakery Crackers - Great on their own, but without an overwhelming flavor, making them the perfect vehicle for us to eat cheese. Pineapple Marmalade - I make this for my pastry business, but it pairs well on our cheese board with a tart and sweet flavor addition.
Try new things, but buy what you enjoy. I find that due to the amount of food at dinner parties that I always end up with leftover cheese. There aren't any cheeses I won't eat (okay, maybe I wouldn't want the breast milk cheese that someone made a couple years ago) but when I am faced with leftovers, I want cheese that I would sit and eat. If it's not something you want to eat for the next week, probably best not to put it on your cheese board. (Note: This is why I like small cheese shops, because they allow you to taste before you buy, making it much easier to get what you like.)
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SHOW ME HOW
If you are doing a cheese plate for a party, definitely plate mild to strong. I've found that this makes it easier to get a more timid guest to taste up to the point that they feel comfortable, and not pushing them away starting them with something way too strong for their buds.
Cheese plates aren't just for special events. That cheese case may look intimidating, but I guarantee you that once you start tasting your way through it, you will discover delicious wonders that will make you random Tuesday a fabulous day for a cheese plate.
Rachel Miller is a pastry chef and food writer in Phoenix, where she bakes, eats, and single-handedly keeps her local cheese shop in business. You can get more information about her pastry at www.pistolwhippedpastry.com, or on her blog at www.croissantinthecity.com.