YOUR GUIDE TO CREATING A CHEESE PLATE LIKE A PRO
RO’S GO TO CHEESEMONGERS IN NEW YORK CITY:
- The Bedford Cheese Shop in Brooklyn
- Artisanal Cheese Center
- Murray’s in Manhattan
- Greg Blais at Dean and Deluca in SoHo
FAVORITE CHEESE TYPES TO EXPLORE:
- Fresh Young Cheeses: Try mozzarella and young chevre. These are happy with grapes, fresh fruit, raw fresh vegetables, including tomatoes, celery, small lettuces and temperate herbs like parsley, basil and chives.
- Bloomy Rind Cheeses: Try Brillat Savarin, Robiola and Gratte Paille. These are high fat, unctuous cow cheeses that rely on high fruit and gentle acid to dress them into style and elegance. Accompany them with dried apricots stewed lightly in a sweet white wine perhaps.
- Semi-soft Cheese Try Fontina, Morbier, Saint-Nectaire. These are grassy, light and buttery on the tongue. They benefit from holding hands with their accompaniment rather than requiring dominance. So serve them with toasted nuts, apples, pears, endives, arugula.
- Washed Rind Cheeses: (in brine, beer, wine or spirits) Try Epoisses de Bourgogne, Livarot, Connecticut’s Cato Corner Hooligan. These are assertive and pungent. Their masculinity needs taming with equally assertive liquor or wine stewed raisins, dried figs and port-soaked peaches.
- Aged Goat Cheese Try Chabichou du Poitue, Valencay, Pouligny-Saint Pierre. These are intense, acidic cheeses with a light, wrinkled bloomy rind, sometimes dusted with ash, covering a melting soft layer before you get to the slightly acidic chalky interior. These chevres are wonderful with aromatic, flowery maple syrup, herbes de Provence and sweet shortbread cookies.
- Firm Cheese Try Cheddar, Manchego, Cantal. These are firm but supple on the tongue with clear characteristics of their type. Sometimes a trifle smoky and they can be sharp. They respond well to acidic fruit, olives, pickled fruit and vegetables and chutneys.
- Hard Cheese Try Parmigiano-Reggiano, Dutch Gouda, Grana Padano. These are piquant, granular in texture in the best examples, slightly salty. They dance well with intense flavours like wine syrups, aromatic herbed nuts like pimenton-toasted almonds with thyme and fennel.
- Blue Cheese Try Stilton, Fourme d’Ambert and Gorgonzola. These are the kings of cheese and they command the plate with assertive nuts like walnuts, intensely sugared and acidic fruit like figs, peaches, pineapple. Serve them with peppery radicchio and escarole too.
- Treat the cheese as a centre-of-the-plate protein, using appropriate accoutrements to enhance the cheese’s flavour profile. And you have a cheese course as worthy as the rest of your menu. Then take a step beyond and create a simple two to three ingredient recipe with the cheese as the focal point. Properly paired and prepared, the cheese will truly sing.
- Consider grapes, one of the most basic yet perfect pairing to any cheese. That’s because the acidity and sugar level of the grape cuts through the fat and enhances the flavour.
- Blue cheese and honey pair well because honey mellows the character, taking away the initial pungency. Infuse the honey with herbaceous rosemary and the cheese takes on an even more delightful flavour profile. For those who are blue cheese-averse, how about a simple classic American, but blue, cheese soup enhanced with Sauternes to make the soup smile! Serve it in a demitasse cup with a piece of the cheese atop a sweet almond wafer or little toasted baguette smeared with apple or honey butter.
- I also like to pair cheese with herbs because they act as the ‘vegetable’ on the plate. Because a small portion of cheese offers a very distinct, intense flavour, herbs are excellent accompaniments, as they too pack a large flavour in a small serving.
- Nuts, room temperature crisp fruit and vegetables, wafers and toasted breads are all crunchy foils for cheese – even puff pastry filled with an unguent washed rind or double or triple crème cheese drizzled with an herbaceous red wine syrup, creates nirvana in a toothsome bite!
WHAT TO DRINK WITH ALL THESE WONDERFUL CHEESES? CHEESE CRIES OUT FOR GOOD WINE TO ACCOMPANY IT:
- If you are planning a light, not too assertive flight of cheese choose a light red pinot noir or a flavourful white chardonnay or fruity Riesling.
- Bloomy and creamy cheese would benefit from a Cotes du Rhone or light Barbera d’Alba.
- As the cheese flavour profile becomes more assertive, select an equally robust wine. Try a Pomerol or Saint Julien or an Australian Shiraz.
- When you get to the blues, hard and strong washed rind cheese go for a vintage port, a dense Amontillado sherry or even an aged Madeira.
I encourage you to explore and experiment with cheese. As you get to know them they will become friends and who knows – you might even begin a long lasting love affair!