A Foodie’s Tips for a Thoughtful Cheese Plate
How many cheeses are on your plate? Do you serve them with crackers or fruit? Which wine and food pairings go together best and why? The following tips will make entertaining with cheese easier.
A thoughtfully arranged cheese plate adds a special touch to when you entertain, particularly around the holidays. From a simple wedge drizzled with honey to an elaborate tasting of several different cheeses and paired accompaniments, a cheese plate can match your celebration. Here are some expert tips to plate a great cheese course.
Select Your Method
Most tastings are guided in one of two directions—horizontal or vertical. A traditional cheese plate is often organised based on the horizontal tasting method, and it simply features a hodgepodge of cheeses, milks and creameries. Usually, three to six cheeses are presented—definitely no more than eight, featuring a fresh cheese and/or a bloomy rind, a semisoft and/or hard cheese, a washed rind and a blue.
A vertical tasting, on the other hand, is more focused. It could feature an individual producer (Laura Chenel’s Chèvre: Chef’s Chèvre, Mèlodie and Tome), a specific region (Wisconsin: Uplands Cheese Pleasant Ridge Reserve, LaClare Farms Evalon and Carr Valley’s Cocoa Cardona), a particular type of cheese (cheddar: English, Vermont, Australian or curd), a single style of cheese (blues: Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola, Roaring Forties Blue, Guttus, Rogue River Blue) or a single milk (sheep’s milk cheeses: Manchego, Roquefort, Guttus, Feta). Though typically harder to find, the strict definition of this type of tasting involves selecting a single cheese from a single producer and displaying a progression of that cheese at various ages. Hook’s Cheese Company, for example, has cheddar that ranges from mere months to 15 years old.
Spend as much time selecting the accompaniments as you do the cheeses. If you’re going to the trouble of picking amazing, handcrafted cheeses, pick pairings that rise to the occasion. Baguettes are great, but so are nut and fruit breads.
While some large-scale manufacturers make great crackers, try some artisan or smaller cracker producers like Potter’s Crackers. Owners Nancy Potter and Peter Potter Weber make small, organic batches of 13 different crackers, including four that are baked seasonally.
Fruits, fresh and dried, traditionally adorn a cheese plate, but so, too, can jams, chutneys and fruit spreads. To better tie your cheeses with your wines, pick fruits and fruit concoctions with flavours that match the aromas of your wine selections. For example, dried cherries match up with a Cabernet Sauvignon that has the aroma of dried cherries. Kendall-Jackson Wine Center in Sonoma County, California, offers a cheese and wine tasting that features one of the best uses of fruit accompaniments for a wine and cheese tasting. Speaking of Sonoma, just an hour-and-a-half drive from Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco, the county is home to the biggest concentration of artisan cheese makers in California. Many of them welcome visitors, and many more sell their handcrafted cheeses at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. So don’t miss the opportunity to see where the selections on your cheese plate began.
While We’re Talking About Wine . . .
If you are planning on only serving one wine with several cheeses, your best bet is a Riesling, but if you’re planning to serve several wines with just one cheese, go with a Parmigiano-Reggiano.
White wines tend to pair better, overall, with cheeses because the tannins in red wines can sometimes clash with milk, especially in milder cheeses. But if you must have that spicy Shiraz, crack some fresh black pepper over the cheese, and the pepper will tie the wine and the cheese together beautifully.