Create the Perfect Cheese plate
Looking to impress with a perfect cheese plate? Or maybe you just want pajamas in front of your favorite show with an easy treat you know you’ll love. For guests, cheese looks great presented on dark colors like slate , which is food safe and can be marked with chalk to label your cheeses. But no need to over think it; a butcher block, cutting board, or favorite plate will work beautifully. Cheese for one? Crumble some blue or a slice of cheddar or Parmesan style into a bowl and baby, you got yourself a stew goin! The best part? No cooking and minimal cleanup.
But first thing's first: pick out some cheese! It’s easy to include plenty of variety, no matter how adventurous (or not) you want to be. You can include cheeses with different textures, milks, styles, age, region, etc. For example, if you know someone likes cheddar, try a selection of English, Irish, and American cheddars. They all have unique characteristics that go beyond flavor - aging techniques, tradition, even color are handled differently based on region. You could have an interesting variety without even leaving a single style. There are oceans of difference between an earthy, English clothbound cheddar, a medium-sharp, wax coated, Irish cheddar, and an extra- aged, (familiarly orange) Wisconsin cheddar.
You could have an interesting variety without even leaving a single style.
For more variety, think about compliments and contrasts. Already have two or three cheeses you know everyone will like? Include a blue or washed rind cheese for stronger flavors. Washed rind cheeses are a big category that are worth exploring. Sometimes stinky, they can be treated with anything from sea salt-and-water solutions to wine, or beer as they age. If you're in the mood for something creamy, double and triple creme cheeses are rich and decadent (but not always expensive) and are as appropriate for celebration as sparkling white wine – something they pair great with. Aged cheeses can also be quite varied in intensity, and flavor. These are typically very firm with concentrated flavors. After about a year of aging, some cheese will start to develop slight crystallization in the paste that can become more pronounced with age. In aged Dutch Gouda for instance, this satisfying, crunchy element is accompanied by smoky, salted caramel, and butterscotch vibes, earning from some the moniker of “adult cheese candy.”
The most important thing is to select cheese that you and your guests will enjoy. Go ahead and put a friendly cheddar or tame Asiago next to an aggressive Italian blue or a classic French Brie . It can be fun to put on a show with distinguished, name-protected cheeses, and those from very small, seasonal productions. But cheese also has a rustic connotation. It’s a product of the farm after all! Many cheeses are great on their own, and it’s up to you which are best. It’s definitely fun, and satisfying to search for that interesting and unexpected combination of flavors between cheeses and accompaniments. But it doesn’t have to be challenging. When served simply with crackers or crusty bread, maybe some sliced apples, or a little mustard or honey - many, many cheeses will perform admirably.
Washed rind cheeses are a big category that are worth exploring.
This post was written by Colin Coyle, Cheesemonger at Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine. Fun Fact: Colin is also Pastoral's newest sign-maker, and you can see his careful sign-making handiwork in all Pastoral stores and at Bar Pastoral