I'm still reminiscing about all the delicious cheese I gobbled up during my visit to Maker's Common last month. I had a chance to sit down with Sarah Dvorak, the co-owner of said restaurant as well as co-owner of San Francisco's Mission Cheese, to learn how to artfully concoct three delicious and impressive cheese plates that are sure to be devoured by all your holiday guests.
Holidays can be exhausting and if you're anything like me, I spend the bulk of my time on the big meal and leave the appetizers until the last minute. The cheese plate has always been an easy way to make a really good impression with little-to-no effort. Read on for tips on cheese plates, suggestions on how to dress up any type of cheese, and some cool factoids that you can throw about to impress your guests.
We started with three kinds of cheese. Dvorak says variety is key. I compare it with wine: it's like starting with white wine first, then red. Your cheeses should suggest a progression in both flavor and intensity.
Why not come up with a theme for your board? Try to look for cheeses made locally. It's the best way to get cheese at their peak and to impress your guests with new knowledge from their hometown. Our first plate included a Cowgirl Creamery cheese-blend (made with farmstead goat, sheep and cow's milk), an extra-aged Cowgirl Creamery cow's milk cheese, and a Point Reyes Bay Blue. It's best enjoyed in that order. Again, eat from order of levels of intensity.
Factoid #1: Did you know that the striations in the blue cheese come from a combination of adding a specific culture when making, and then perforating the cheese with a metal probe in order to let air in. This combination causes the blue looking mold inside of the cheese.
We topped off this plate with some mixed fruit, sliced bread, and some Jamnation Jam from the Host your Heart Out box. Pick dried fruit to accompany. It's super easy to find at your grocery store and will look great on the plate. What I love most about this plate was how in awe my photographer and I were at how Sarah taught us to cut up with blue cheese. It's so simple. It basically looks like shredding with a knife. I always wondered how to eat blue cheese; do I slice it, or spoon it? The way Sarah did this makes it approachable for anyone to dive right in.
Impress your in-laws
Yes, this next one is a bit impressive, but Dvorak made it so tantalizing that we barely finished setting it up before diving right in. We wanted to create a board that would wow the socks of your in-laws. Mission accomplished.
Factoid #2: Beware, this could get a little nerdy. Cheese is made from milk. The proteins in milk naturally bounce off of each other. There are two types of cheese processes, lactic and enzymatic. Both help adhere the proteins to each other. Lactic simply means that you add an acid to a starter culture. This helps the cheese bond better by dissolving the proteins a tiny bit. This means acid-set cheese is usually softer. Cottage cheese, quark, and chèvre fall into this category.
Enzymatic (Rennet coagulation) refers to the addition of enzymes to milk in order to make it clot. Instead of dissolving the proteins, this process acts as a razor that cuts off the part of the protein that prevents molecules from sticking, thus creating more of a harder backbone. These types of cheeses are the harder cheeses that taste better with aging: gouda, chedder, queso fresco.
Our cheeses had an amazing combination of love. An oozy, triple cream cheese from Jasper Hill Farm (called Harbison), St. Malachi cows milk like gouda (buttery and fruity, with a caramel richness), and Rouge River Blue (a cows milk blue that's tangy, creamy and mouth-puckering). In case you can't get these locally, ask your cheese shop for something similar to the descriptions listed above.
We added some soppressata and salami, some fruit of the season (persimmon) and some mixed nuts. (pomegranate seeds are one of my holiday favorites to adorn a cheese plate).
Easy Peezy Cheesy
If you don’t have time to go to the store, as I often do with last minute guests, get something from the corner market or use what you already have in your fridge. We made this last plate with some triple cream cheese, gouda and a white cheddar.
Factoid #3: No real cheese is anything but varying shades of white. Remember when we were kids and cheddar only came in orange? So, when white cheddar came around, we were blown away and somehow the name "white cheddar" stuck. But guess what? That orange cheese is dyed! Now why they had to go and ruin a nice cheese? Check this answer out.
Pair these with some fancy crackers (these are Raincoast crisps) and pickles. If you want a simple pickle recipe that can be done in an hour, check this out!
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Photography: Feather Weight
Special thanks to Maker's Common
Artistans: Bestowe Artisans