Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cheese Plate

Putting together a cheese plate can be kind of fun.
Cheese is fun.
They can be creamy, almost crunchy, nutty, salty, sweet...

A cheese course is a fantastic addition to a meal (between the main and dessert).
In addition, cheese is a nice, easy, no-cook party idea.
...well, some cheeses, such as halloumi, can be "grilled" in a frying pan- the cheese softens and develops crispy grill marks without completely melting (great as an appetizer or added to a plated salad).

When constructing a cheese board, it's nice to have a little diversity to choose from.
Three cheeses is good for a small party, and five is better for a larger group.

You don't want too many cheeses though, because you want people to be able to keep track of what they're eating without taste buds becoming too confused, but it is nice to have some variety of flavors, shapes, colors, and textures.

There are many specific cheeses, but they all fall into a few different categories (I'm sure they are categorized in many different ways though!)...

Soft cheeses are generally mildly flavored and include fresh mozzarella, chevre, ricotta, camembert and brie.
Semi-firm cheeses are more boldly flavored than soft cheeses and pair well with fruits. These include cheddar and gouda.
Hard cheeses are dense and flavorful, occasionally with small crunchy crystals that add to flavor and texture. They're wonderful for grating (or for breaking into shards to be snacked on) and are usually aged quite a while (asiago, Parmesan, romano, gruyere).
Blue/bleu cheeses contain veins of green or blue mold, can be very strong, and are certainly an acquired taste (Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola).

When I buy cheese, I usually have a bit of an idea of what I want, but at the same time, I'm not at all opposed to changing my mind after I peruse a little.
Speaking with the cheesemonger can also be a good way to learn a little about cheese (they may be able to help you put a group of cheeses together) and about what's good at the time you're shopping.

Yes, cheese is actually seasonal! It was originally a way to preserve milk for year-round consumption. However, things have changed a little for many cheeses so that they're produced year-round, or so that there's enough cheese produced for the whole year. Supply and demand, you know.

A cheese board could be created with a theme in mind: French, Italian, Sheep, Cow, Climate, Age...

There aren't necessarily any hard and fast rules about cheese boards (because I said so), however there are some guidelines that are occasionally helpful (like maybe choosing one cheese out of each of the "categories").

Here are some ideas for a cheese board:

Wenslydale with cranberries

Nuts: almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios
Fruit: apples, pears, grapes, figs (fresh and dried), dates, dried apricots, dried cranberries or cherries, membrillo (quince paste, but it makes me think of Don Quixote)

Jam, chutney
Sausage, prosciutto
Sun-dried tomatoes
Honey (it's good with blues and Parmesan!)

French bread (crusty! fresh!)


Remember to take the cheeses out of the refrigerator an hour or two before serving so they have a chance to warm up- the flavor will be better if they're at room temperature!

1 comment:

  1. I always put walnuts and dried cranberries on my cheese plate. It always has brie or camembert, and I like sage derby & greuyere. We have the coolest cheese guy @ Eastern Market- he's such a curmudgeon, and too cool for most of us who just want a quarter pound of good cheese at a time.