Cheese Plate Pointers

I’m sure you’ve seen some of these before… lame cheese plate                

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And sure, they’re kind of fun, because maybe you get to use mini-sword toothpicks, but there isn’t much diversity of flavor, texture, or aroma among the cheeses on this plate. Put together with some care, a group of cheeses can totally blow your mind! So next time you’re entertaining or going to a potluck, consider the cheese plate alternative. It’s fast, easy, and it’s kind of like a party game. You get to compare and contrast and ponder the amazing capabilities of milk. Also, you only need to know a few key words to impress your friends. Here are the magic words of cheese presentation:

1) The name of the cheese. Seems simple, but can be pretty alluring. We have some clever American titles like Dancing Fern and Flory’s Truckle. Or you can practice your European accents with names like Casatica di Bufala, Vacherin Fribourgeois, and Torta del Casar.

2) The animal(s) the milk comes from. Cow, goat, sheep, and water buffalo are all in our case. Saying “mixed milk” for a mulitple-milk cheese always sounds a little sultry.

3) Where the cheese comes from. Usually the country will suffice, but knowing the region, or whether it’s from the mountains or a little salt-encrusted island gives some nice concrete geographical context.

When it comes to putting the plate together, an odd number of cheeses is usually best, 3-5 so as not to overwhelm the palate. Going traditional is nice- mixing up the milks and styles to build a balanced, pleasurable experience, but it’s also fun to be bold and get creative. You could do all-American, European classics, all of a particular animal’s milk, or all cheeses of a particular style. Texture is a major factor to consider, as well as the order in which the cheeses are eaten. Start with the mildest and end with the strongest, this way, you won’t miss the subtleties of the more gentle cheeses. Estimating a few ounces per person is usually the way to go, more if it’s a meal, less if cheese is being served as an hors d’oeuvre or among other snacks. This Cheese Calculator is a good reference.

American Cheeses left to right- Mt. Tam, Oma, San Joaquin Gold, Cabot Clothbound, Bayley Hazen Blue

Single-portion American Cheese plates organized by strength, left to right- Mt. Tam, Oma (on one of its milder days), Appalachian Tomme, Cabot Clothbound, and Bayley Hazen Blue. The meats are La Quercia Coppa and Fra’ Mani Soppressata.

We don’t like to have rigid formulas or prefabricated cheese plates to offer. It doesn’t make sense due to the seasonality of many cheeses. For example, goat’s milk season came in with the spring, but back in winter our fresh goat cheese selection was looking quite sad (more about that here). People often forget that milk (and cheese of course) is not simply a grocery staple, but a product of animals with life cycles and daily routines. Baby goats need milk too. Also, consider Alpage cheeses, made when cows are grazing on high altitude pasture usually covered with snow.

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Brillat Savarin, Délice de Poitou, Paglierino, Gruyère d’Alpage, Rush Creek Reserve, and Colston Basset Stilton

  Cheese plates also do better with some insight into the crowd that will be enjoying them. You can get to know friends’ taste buds a little better. And don’t forget about pairings with wine or beer or cider! Enjoy a plate full of blues with a bottle of port, or try stinking up the whole house with a combination of washed rind treasures while sipping white Burgundy. We also have lovely cured meats, pâtés, dried fruit, nuts, and spreads along with a variety of crackers and delicious bread baked daily by Cunningham’s Bakery. We encourage people to put their own plates together (real plates look better than plastic trays), but if you simply don’t have the time check out our catering page for some pictures and more information.  

-Amelia  

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