Having a party? There are new rules when it comes to the all-mighty cheese plate -- namely that your palate is the final decision-maker. Forget the old “country-specific” cheese plates; these lapsed cheese plates will have your guests talking for days following your fete.
The Range: It’s important to get a range of flavors, cheese milk sources -- goat, cow, sheep, and buffalo, and textures -- from creamy to oily. Go for sharp and complex flavors that range in intensity.
No Strength in Numbers: Never plate more than 3 or 4 cheeses together.
Source It: Don’t feel beholden to grouping cheeses by countries (unless that’s the theme of your party). What’s important is the region, not the country. Get out a map and pick a region in France, Spain, or Italy on which you’d like your cheese plate to focus. In Spain, try the Catalonia region. Create a plate of cheeses from the Normandy region in France or the Lombardy region of Italy.
The Company: The accompaniments on your cheese platter are just as important as the cheeses that you choose. They fall into three main categories: sweet, savory, and charcuterie.
Sweet: Try any compote, preserves, quince paste, or sweet component (like Corsican beer jelly -- intriguing-sounding, right?). These work better with cheese than any fresh fruit. If you want to use fruit, go for dried fruit like preserves from southwest France, which tend to be really succulent.
Savory: Olives make the best savory accompaniment to a cheese platter, especially ones that you’ve washed and dressed in the style that’s particular to that region’s olive. If you’ve invited any guests that don’t like olives or want an alternative, try peppers from South Africa; any roasted chili, or grilled artichokes.
Charcuterie: Keep the meats in moderation, but try duck prescuitto or wild boar prescuitto for some truly unique cheese platter stand-outs.
Cut & Plate It: Always have a number of big slabs of wood or slate in the house that are sturdy, don’t wobble, and can take the hack of a knife. Ideally, these slabs look good enough that you feel comfortable putting them on the table at dinner with a bunch of accompaniments and a few leaves or something as an additional visual garnish.
When it comes to plating, you can either let your guests decide what cheeses they want to sample from the large platter, or give everyone a little portion of each cheese with the accompaniments directly on the plate.
Nestpert: Steve Jenkins, author of The Food Life, has been described in print as "New York’s highest-profile grocer" (New York Magazine), "the enfant terrible of the fancy food business" (The New York Times), and "the eminence grise of American cheesemongers" (The New Yorker). In addition to being featured in New York Magazine’s "The 100 Smartest New Yorkers" issue, Steven Jenkins has worked at New York’s Fairway Markets for most of his career.
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