Thursday, December 18, 2014

A handy guide to creating the perfect cheese plate


 

I may or may not be obsessed with cheese (are you, too?), so the fact that we live down the street from Murray's Cheese, the most amazing cheese shop that ever existed, is fabulous and a little dangerous. The shop is packed with incredible cheeses, meats, chocolates, breads and ice creams, and the cheesemongers are geniuses (and give samples!). Toby and I venture over there at least twice a week, and we're both fatter and happier for it.

So, my darlings, I'm thrilled to present this handy guide to creating the perfect cheese plate! I met with Murray's head cheesemonger Sydney Willcox to discover her tried-and-true tips, and the lovely Jamie Beck took photos. Here goes...

 

Overall pointers for putting together a cheese plate:
* When you invite friends over, buy one ounce per person per cheese; and stick to five to six cheeses total.
* Choose a fun variety of cheeses: different textures, countries, and all three milk types (goat, sheep, cow).
* Serve all the cheeses on one big board. You want your guests to start with the mildest and work up to the strongest, so place the cheeses in "clock order"--12 o'clock being the mildest and 11 o'clock being the strongest.
* Take the cheese out of the fridge at least an hour before serving. Cheese should be eaten at room temperature, when it's at its full flavor and texture.
* Put out a few different knives. Goat and blue cheeses crumble if you use a regular knife, so cheese wires are the best thing to use--if you don't have one, you can use dental floss! Softer cheeses work best with a butter knife. Harder cheeses, like parmesan, are good with a triangle-shaped knife. Cut circular cheeses in wedges, like a pizza.
* If you have leftovers, don't store the cheese in Saran Wrap, which will make the cheese sweat and leave a plastic-y taste. Cheese is living and needs to breathe, so wrap it in parchment or wax paper, and keep it in the most humid part of the fridge (usually the vegetable drawer).

 

Six cheeses for the perfect basic cheese plate:
(pictured clockwise from top)

1. Cremont is a bloomy, rindy, mild cheese, which debuted last year in Vermont. (The name "cremont" is a mix of "cream" and "Vermont"!) The cheese has both cow and goat milk. Luscious, coats your tongue, fudge-y, cake-y.

2. La Tur is the little black dress of cheeses! Everyone loves it. It's a mix of goat, sheep and cow--which is is pretty unusual. Flavorwise, you get a hint of all three animals--tang from the goat, lingering buttery fat from the sheep, milky sweetness from the cow. The texture feels almost whipped, like savory ice cream! At a party, this insanely popular Italian cheese will disappear first.

3. Pyrenees Brebis. Every single person I've has ever met loves this sheep's milk cheese. It's a huge crowd-pleaser. A lot of flavor, but very harmonious. Nutty, salty, floral, semi-soft. From the southwest region of France, where there are huge herds of sheep.

4. Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. Cabot makes lots of cheddars, but this is their artisanal (read: fancy!) line. What's cool about this cheese is that it's a partnership between Cabot and the Cellars at Jasper Hill--Cabot makes the cheese, which is then aged in the Cellars at Jasper Hill. There's actually a staff of guys (football-player size!) who flip these cheeses everyday, so they'll age evenly. The cheese is wrapped in cloth, which is a more English style of making cheese. Super strong cheddar; you get little crystals. You'll taste peanuts, caramel, earthy flavors. Eat from the inside out; then take the cloth off and then eat the rind--it almost takes like dirt, but it works so well with the other flavors. (P.S. It would make the best grilled cheese you'd ever have in your life.)

5. Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Made with raw Jersey cow's milk in Wisconsin. Very fruity and smooth. The American Cheese Society just named it "Best in Show" for the third time (it's the only cheese to have been awarded Best in Show more than once!). You've gotta try it.

6. Cambozola Black Label is a very, very delicate blue cheese. Just a tinge of that mineral flavor; very buttery with a bit of a cashew flavor. A great beginning cheese for people who think they might not like blue cheeses. (Once you put it on bread and add a grape, it will mellow out, if you’re feeling timid!) Blue cheeses and chocolate also go together really well--a great balance of salty and sweet.

Pair cheeses with: Dried cherries, walnuts, marcona almonds (I love these!), fresh grapes, crackers and French bread.

 

Yummy! Thank you so much, Sydney and Murray's! Have you tried any of these cheeses before? Do you have a different favorite cheese that you'd recommend? I'd love to hear...