The Perfect Cheese Board
Okay, it may not be the healthiest of indulgences, but cheese, really beautiful, well-made cheese, has to be one of the best things on the planet. Give me a slice of Camembert over chocolate cake any day. Last week, my friend Katie, all too aware of my obsession, asked to be pointed in the right direction for serving cheese. I turned to the experts at my two meccas, La Fromagerie in London, and NYC’s Murray’s Cheese Shop, and asked them to come up with options for assembling the perfect cheese plate. Here are some options for the more adventurous, and one for the, well, less (but no less delicious).
At La Fromagerie, Patricia Michelson’s one-of-a-kind food lover’s cheese and grocery store/paradise, the formula for a cheese board is built from cheeses from 5 different groups: Goat Cheese, Soft, Hard, Washed Rind, and Blue. Generally, you want to eat the cheese in this order, going from mild to strong so that you can truly savor each kind.
Dale, who guided us through La Fromagerie’s Cheese Room, created two cheese boards—a classic, which makes for a great introductory board, and a more challenging board for those who are looking for a bit of an adventure.
Fresh, light cheeses made with goat’s milk.
Option 1: Selles Sur Cher
“Strong goatiness.” It’s quite firm but still creamy. The ash covering counteracts the sharpness of the goat’s milk.
Option 2: Cendre de Niort
A silky smooth cheese typically served on a leaf. It has incredible texture.
Think of French Brie, Camembert, English Wigmore, or Waterloo.
Option 1: Brie de Meaux
Mushroomy and so creamy.
Option 2: Wigmore
This British soft cheese is from Berkshire and has a sweet milkiness to it.
Option 1: Comte d’Estive
A Gruyère-style cheese from France.
Option 2: Castelrosso
An aged Pecorino that has an herby flavor.
These are cheeses that have been washed with alcohol—varying from cider to brandy. The process is called an “affinage,” and at La Fromagerie they continue to wash the cheeses in-store. These are generally stinky and very flavorful varieties.
Option 1: Epoisses Affine
This cheese is from Burgundy and is washed in brandy. Notice just how creamy it is when sliced.
Option 2: Bachensteiner
This is a small production Austrian cheese. It is super punchy, creamy and very, very strong.
The strongest of the cheeses, with a tangy and sometimes even sweet flavor. Classic examples are French Roquefort and English Stilton.
Option 1: Roquefort Papillon
It’s organic and La Fromagerie carries the premium Papillon exclusively. (The picture is of their regular brand.)
Option 2: Zelu Koloria
From the Pays Basque region in France, this ewe’s milk cheese has an incredible flavor that changes on the palate the more you savor it.
La Fromagerie has its own line of crackers. The label on the box tells you exactly which cheeses they go best with, which is very handy. In addition, Dale gave us a list of solid cheese and food combinations for the summer.
Goat cheese + fresh cherries
Sweet hard cheeses + fresh figs
Cheddar + grapes or apples
Manchego + Quince Jelly
“Cheese,” Patricia Michelson’s encyclopedic tome on the subject, is incredibly useful if you’re looking to learn more about individual varieties, pairings and recipes.
GP’s Ideal Cheese Board
For the dinner I hosted for My Father’s Daughter, Murray’s Cheese in New York created a cheese board of my favorites. I love stinky cheeses and blues, so here’s what Amanda Parker at Murray’s put together:
“Super stinky little rounds of French cheese, these are soft, gooey puddles of funk. They come to Murray’s washed in marc de bourgogne, a locally made spirit from Burgundy—distilled from the stems and grape mash leftover from the Burgundy winemaking process—and the fiery liquor is what eventually gives the cheeses their pungency. They’re rumored to be banned on the French subway system, that’s how strong they are! We take it a step further, and I wanted to highlight the Murray’s cave-aging process at the dinner—our ‘affineur,’ in charge of aging and ripening the cheeses in our caves downstairs, washes them again here in New York. They’re even better that way, and unique to us at Murray’s.”
“Another smelly cheese, this one’s a little firmer and nuttier than the Epoisses. It’s an Alpine style cheese, made in the great tradition of those famous Swiss cheeses like Gruyere and Emmentaler, but it’s got a bit more going for it. It’s firm and smooth, and basically melts in your mouth into a slightly sharp but rounded flavor reminiscent of caramelized onions.”
“Parmesan is not Parmigiano is not Bonati Parmigiano Reggiano—not all Parm is created equal! These wheels are specially crafted by Giorgio Bonati in Parma, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. He’s a master cheesemaker, only making 2-3 wheels of Parmigiano a day—super small batches for a Parmigiano producer—which allows him to focus on the craftsmanship of the product and devote attention to flavor development as his cheese ages. He manages his own herd of fewer than 100 cows, which have a specialized diet of grass, herbs, and hay from the region, and contribute again to that amazing flavor: It’s ry but not too hard, crumbly, crystalline, fruity and grassy and nutty and sharp all at once. It’s really the best Parm ever, the King of Cheeses!”
“Since Gwyneth loves blues, we went for two. This Bleu d’Auvergne is a classic French blue, made in the Auvergne region of Southern France. It’s a milder, creamy blue, with some fruitiness and a bit of a peppery bite. One of the French AOC cheeses, we chose this to complement the stronger Gorgonzola (next).”
“Another classic blue—the spicier Gorgonzola Piccante, or Mountain Gorgonzola, from the Lombardy region of Northern Italy. It’s stronger than the Gorgonzola Dolce that many are familiar with, and firmer, drier—lots of blue veining. They say it’s Italy’s version of the French Roquefort. This one is dense but creamy in the mouthfeel, and definitely has a kick when you taste it—also great when tempered with a honey.”
“We also threw in Tom Cat Baguettes, a classic pairing for any cheese, Semolina Raisin Bread from Amy’s Bread, which is a lovely anise-y raisiny complement to some of the sweeter cheeses, and mixed olives, of course.”
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