SCOOP DU JOUR is a weekly column by food enthusiast Hannah Howard about eating, cooking, and exploring her way through New York. From a visit with the City’s greatest grocer to discovering the “umami” of love, Fridays are packed with the unique flavor only Hannah can coax out of a culinary experience.
The first rule for cheese plate triumph is that there are no rules. I know this may sound like a cop out, but as long as you put, say, one delicious wheel of something on a plate you are in good shape. A piece of crusty bread and a bottle of wine that makes you happy is always a good idea, but that’s bonus. If someone tells you there are cheese plate rules, they are 1. a snob and 2 mistaken.
That being said, I’ve been working with cheese for more than a decade. What does any serious cheese-lover do after a hard, long day of working with cheese? Go home and eat more cheese. Have over some friends and serve some dreamy dairy. Here are five tips you may want to consider for optimal cheesing:
1. Cheeses taste better at room temperature
That’s when their flavors are most expressive. I usually take my cheeses out of the refrigerator about an hour before I’m ready to serve them, to get rid of that fridge chill.
2. Don’t go crazy
If you serve a million cheeses, nobody will remember which is which. Odd numbers look pretty on a plate, so I usually opt for three or five cheeses. This is plenty.
3. Each cheese gets its own knife
It doesn’t have to be a fancy cheese knife; a butter knife will do, or a paring knife for hard cheese. You don’t want to get blue choose goo all over your triple crème, etc.
4. Variety is the spice of (cheese) life
Think of serving different textures (from creamy to crumbly), flavors (from mild to wild), milk types (goat, sheep, cow, water buffalo) and colors (from alabaster to blue).
5. Have fun
I mean we’re eating cheese — don’t forget the purpose.
Here are some of my favorite cheese plate stars right now. They’re all from the USA, because American cheesemakers are up to some incredible things. You’ll find them in my kitchen and soon in my tummy:
Vermont Creamery St. Albans
This is a brand new creation, just out from the cheesemaking geniuses at Vermont Creamery. It’s their very first aged cheese made from 100 percent cows’ milk, from a single herd of Jersey cows.
It comes in a super cute crock, which means St. Albans doubles as a personal, portable fondue. Just pop in the oven or toaster oven, and behold—the delicate, tangy cheese melts into luxurious ooze. Serve with slices of baguette of carrots or sausage for dipping and watch it disappear.
Mystic Cheese Co. Melinda Mae
I’m a little obsessed with Brian Civitello, the man behind Mystic Cheese Co, which is just two shipping containers parked on a farm in Connecticut. Every morning, Brian milks his cows and immediately starts making his cheese, and it’s easy to taste that ridiculous freshness in the finished product. Melinda Mae is inspired by Shel Silversetein: “Have you heard of tiny Melinda Mae/ Who ate a monstrous whale?”
Well you’ve heard now of this fruity, bloomy-rinded beauty. It’s silky, milky, and buttery with a welcome yeasty tang. Melinda Mae is shockingly easy to devour. She also just took home a second place at the American Cheese Society (which is a huge deal).
Roelli Cheese Haus Dunbarton Blue
Fourth generation cheesemaker Chris Roelli is a blue cheese rebel. He pierces his cheese and then presses it to slow down mold growth, which is just not done. But I’m glad he does it anyway, because Dunbarton Blue is like nothing else. It’s approachable and cheddar-like, intersected with pretty grey/blue veins. It’s a great starter blue for the blue-wary—there’s plenty of delicious character but nothing will hit you over the head or make your eyes water.
Finally, some condiments to make all those wonderful cheeses sing:
Paul & Pippa Crackers are made with extra-virgin olive oil, organic yeast, and spelt flower. They’re just the right amount of rich and crumbly. I love the tomato flavor—the bright tomato is an excellent foil for rich cheese—and their color really pops.
Mike’s Hot Honey is chili pepper-infused honey crafted in Brooklyn; a little sweet, a little heat, a lot of fantastic flavor.
Brooklyn Brine Maple Bourbon Bread & Butter Pickles are everything you want your pickles to be. They’re pickles in Finger Lakes Distilling McKenzie Bourbon and Organic NY State Grade B Maple Syrup, and both are a very good friend to cheese.
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