Perfect Cheese Plate
15 – 30 minutes
I just turned 30! To celebrate, I decided to throw myself a big, five course, dinner party, and over the past few weeks, I have shared the whole menu through my blog posts…but I forgot something! The cheese course! Sure, it is not necessarily something that I cooked, but it did take a lot of research.
In America, the cheese course is something that happens at the beginning of the meal, as an appetizer of sorts. However, in France, the cheese course is a bridge between the main dishes and the dessert, in fact, it is frequently served in place of dessert. I really wanted to celebrate that idea on my birthday (and it meant I didn’t have to cook quite as much!).
The Cheese Course
The number of cheeses, at least for me, is dependent on the size of the party. I am a believer in one or two cheeses for a small group. That is all you need, really, and it allows your guests to focus on the wonderful complexity of the specific cheeses and their accompaniments.
For larger parties, you can add more variety to make sure that everyone has something that they are interested in. I wanted to make a big splash on my birthday, so I served 6 cheeses with a variety of accompaniments. If you are unsure of which cheeses to serve, find a reputable cheese monger and have them create a trio or a pairing for you.
I like to take my cheeses out and allow them to come to room temperature about an hour before serving. I have eaten fine cheeses right out of the fridge, and you really miss quite a bit of their complexity and flavor when they are that cold.
The following are the cheeses I served and flavors they pair well with.
Monte Enebro is currently my favorite cheese. It is produced by a single producer Rafael Baez, of Avila in Castilla y Leon and is a rather unusual goat cheese whose coat is dusted with ash to create a complex flavor that changes throughout. It pairs really well with figs and olives. I served ours with olives and dates.
Bucheron is a French goat cheese that is a bit closer to what we generally expect from a goat cheese. I love the difference in texture from the core of the cheese, which is somewhat reminiscent of chevre, to the outer creme and crust, which is reminiscent of a triple creme brie. Bucheron is generally served with ripe figs or other fruits. I served ours with dates.
I have had a love affair with the French Comté since I visited the Franche Comté region in high school. Comté is frequently considered one of the finest cheeses in the world. The raw cow milk cheese is aged to a nutty, buttery deliciousness. It pairs well with fruits, jams, and nuts of all kinds. And goes especially well with a glass of nice Cognac.
Tallegio is one of my favorite Italian cheeses, and it is incredibly inexpensive for the complexity of its flavor. Amazingly, this cheese has been in production since the 9th century! I am especially fond of the flavor of the crust. The cheese is washed with a brine to create an orange rind that has an incredibly earthy tasting mold. Tallegio is served with a variety of charcuterie. I served it with Prosciutto di Parma.
Roquefort is an English classic! It is generally considered the king of blue cheeses. I rarely like it on its own, but the buttery sweetness of the cheese with its peppery bits of mold go perfectly with sliced pear or another fruit and some Olive Crisps.
Casatica di Bufala is great! Why aren’t there more water buffalo milk cheeses? One of my favorite cheeses is Mozzarella di Bufala, and I am so glad that I found this cheese. Italian water buffalo provide sweetest milk and richest milk, really…make more cheese out of it! It pairs beautifully with dark fruits and jams.
The rest of the meal:
I shared our first course, the aperitif course, last week. We made delicious 1789 cocktails and paired them some amazing Olive Crisps served with a Green Olive and Almond Tapenade with some Anchovy for extra flavor and some creamy, and delicious Riclettes de Sardines.
The second course in our meal was the entree course. In France, unlike America, entree does not mean the main meal, but in fact means appetizer…a course that follows an aperitif of drinks and little snacks. For our entree course, we served a trio of (somewhat excessive) delights! We had four dozen Escargot with a shallot and garlic butter, a Duck and Apricot Terrine, and two beautiful Beef Wellingtons.