Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Putting together a cheese plate- part 1

Well, now you know all about cheese categories, but how do you put it to use when it's time to make a cheese plate for showing off and consumption? People often ask me if they should use bread or crackers, nuts or olives, fruit or honey. I tell them all the same thing, "it's your preference". I'm not being a smarty pants, I mean it. With a few exceptions, you're not going to make any drastic mistakes, and honestly if it tastes good to you, it's not a mistake.

I'll tell you some of my preferences. I am NOT telling you what to do on your plate, just what I do and don't like on mine. My preferences change based on day, time, season, and what's in my pantry or fridge, but this is a pretty accurate list.

Olives: Unless I'm having a Blue, Spanish or Italian plate, I don't like olives with my cheese. I find that the brininess of the olives-something I normally love-I just don't appreciate with most cheese plates I make.

Nuts: I am anti-nut. No, it's not an allergy, I just don't care for most of them. Walnuts (unless candied or blanched) always have a bitter taste to them that I don't appreciate. Nuts are a great snack on their own, but on a cheese plate? No thanks.

Fruit: Yes Please! I love dates, figs, and chutneys on my cheese plate. Fresh fruit, dried fruit, homemade jam, I love them all. A little goes a long way though so be careful when adding these to your plate.

Honey: Sure. I like honey. If you have a favorite honey please, use it. Sparingly. There are a vast number of honeys out there. Some are incredibly fragrant, like flowers, while some are dark and have a molasses quality to them. Taste a few and see what you think.

Remember that you've spent good money to get quality cheese, don't skimp on the accompaniments. PUT AWAY THE HONEY BEAR!

Now when it comes to bread vs. crackers, I almost always want homemade bread. Especially made by either my best friend, or my pa. The yeastiness of the bread seems to be a natural for cheese. Crackers, even good crackers can't match the full flavor or texture of a hunk of bread.

If you want to use crackers I would advise you to use a good quality cracker with not a lot of flavoring to it. Rye, charcoal, and even rosemary can be really tasty. Carr's Water Crackers are fine, try Potter's Artisan Crackers, or if you're feeling zany, make your own. It's really not that hard.

Sometimes I just like eating cheese unadorned. Feta, blues and Cheddar are all delicious for just breaking into pieces and nibbling.

You should try different combos (no, I'm not talking about the pretzel and cheez snack) and find the pairing that works for you. Maybe it's a triple creme with a fruit and nut toast point. Maybe you like blue cheese with olive crackers or endive. Experiment. Try the same cheese with different fruits, nuts or olives. How does each of these things impact the tasting experience for you? The key here as it is with most things cheesy is TASTE.


Ursula said...

A most helpful post--but, seriously, nuts are the yum! (OK, I'm a huge nut lover. So sue me.) Isn't there a cheese that would go really well with a few toasted or candied pecans, or some filberts in dark chocolate?

Cheesewench said...

Of course there are. Idiazabal and Manchego are lovely Spanish sheep's milk cheeses that have some nutty and olive oil qualities to it. So, try pairing them with nuts or olives.

The most important part of putting together a cheese plate is doing pairings that you like. If you like nuts, look for cheeses that mimic those flavors. Raw goat and sheep's milk cheeses can fall into that category. Especially those from places where those nuts and olives are grown.

I encourage you to try your own combinations to see what makes your mouth happiest. Just because I don't like nuts with cheese doesn't mean that you shouldn't try it.

onlinepastrychef said...

Hi there. Welcome to Foodie Blogroll! I just had to come and visit, since I have never met a cheese I didn't like:)

I love your advice about "if it tastes good to you, it's fine," because it's so true. It's a cheese plate, people--not rocket science. Personally, I like an easy pear chutney or some nice homemade raspberry jam as an accompaniment to cheese. I also am a fan of the candied walnut w/blue cheese, although I generally want nothing to do with nuts in desserts. I like how the crunchy/creaminess of the nut is a nice counterpoint to the crumbly/creamy texture of the cheese. Now I'm hungry. But I'll be back:D

Cheesewench said...

Ooooh. Pastries. If you can make a good butterscotch pot de creme youve got a new best friend.

Michele said...

I love your cheese plate tips -- especially the part about the honey bear LOL.
Any tips on picking out a "special" cheese for a guy who loves smoked cheeses and/or provolone?

Cheesewench said...

Ok, so I'm a horrible wench. I didn't see your question until just now.

So, there are a couple of smoked cheeses you could go for. Idiazabal is a lightly smoked sheeps milk cheese. But really, I think you might want to try some Fiore Sardo, a sheeps milk cheese from Sardinia.

Now, the Fiore Sardo might kick your butt I can't lie. It's a BIIIIIIG cheese. Sharp, nutty, smokey, and did I mention salty? When I use it I find that a few shavings with my chef knife for cheese cigarettes is more than enough to satisfy.

If you like the blues, Rogue Creamery makes a lovely smoked blue cheese you should try.