The Perfect Cheese Plate is All About BalanceTuesday, April 16
My wife and I have a pretty amazing relationship, and we agree on most things, but when it comes to snacks, she loves salty and I love sweet. One thing we can always seem to agree on, though, is sharing a cheese plate together. In today’s day and age, there are so many options when it comes to putting together a tasty cheese plate that it’s hard to know where to start, and which cheeses are worth making the grade.
My first piece of advice is to consult a master. Where would I find someone who knows heaps about cheese you ask? Look no further than Paddy’s International Cheese Market (12509-102 ave.). With arguably the city’s best selection of cheeses, and a group of people as passionate as they are, you’ll be certain to find just what you’re looking for, no matter what your palate.
If you’re not will to make the trip, then, at least, heed my next piece of advice. Build your cheese plate with balance.
I like to start with a Hard Cheese. This is usually the easiest one for us North Americans to cross off the list. Maybe it’s some three year old cheddar, or the sweet, but salty, Gruyere, or perhaps it’s the semi-hard Monterey Jack, infused with the flavour of jalapenos or sun-dried tomatoes, or how about Irish Porter, with its beautiful marbling it’s always a welcome addition to any cheese plate. Either way, we are off to a great start!
Then I reach for a Soft Cheese. Maybe it’s the strong tasting Munster, or the more delicate and creamy brie, with its’ subtle aroma of ammonia, or maybe I reach for some Cambozola, the perfect blend of the French triple crème camembert, and the Italian Gorgonzola, with all its’ blue veined goodness. Which leads me to my next category.
The Blue veined Cheese. No decent cheese plate worth its’ salt is absent of at least one stinky, blue veined masterpiece. There are so many salivating options to choose from, there’s the British classic, Stilton, with its’ pungent aroma and sharp flavour, or Roquefort, it’s French counterpart, or maybe it’s something a little more off the beaten path. How about Bleu D’Auvergnes , which is slightly less salty, has more of a moist and creamy texture than most blues? Yes, that could do the trick just nicely.
Time to round things out with a Fresh Cheese. These are most commonly things like real mozzarella, or queso fresco, or ricotta, but these aren’t typical of a great cheese plate. I am thinking along the lines of a fresh goat’s cheese. I really like sticking with the classic Chevre, but there certainly are a number of great goat’s cheeses out there. Its’ subtle flavour and creaminess lend itself nicely to pairing with many great ingredients. I have been known to crust it with poppy seeds, or pistachios to enhance the flavour and presentation.
Every great cheese plate requires some great accompaniments. The list can go on and on forever, but I suggest starting simply, with some fresh bread, or crostinis, and an assortment of crackers. I really love Raincoast Crisps. They may be a little pricy, but I could easily eat a box of them on their own, they’re that good. The rosemary-raisin are my favourite, but I haven’t tasted one that I didn’t like. Then you need some complimentary items. I recommend fruits and nuts to start. Pecans, walnuts, pistachios, are all great choices, and apples, pears, strawberries, figs, dates, will all enhance the flavours of your cheese. I also recommend trying an assortment of jams, jellies or compotes as well. Just the other day I tried a mango-habanero jelly with triple crème brie, and it was delicious. I also recommend trying the delicious bacon jam that I have shared with you. It is heavenly and easy to make.
On my trip to Paddy’s to select my cheeses for this cheese plate, Fern, the ever-present owner, reminded me of, perhaps, one of the most important tips, especially when it comes to building a cheese plate for guests. Learn a story about the cheeses you have selected. You’ll be amazed at how most great cheeses have a wonderfully unique story about their history, or their making, and it always makes for fun dinner conversation. Feel free to ask Fern to share a story or two about her cheeses, and you’ll see her love for what she does, as she speaks about each and every one of them with great pride. You can’t get that kind of experience at the bog box grocery store!
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20-30 minutes
Makes: about a cup
6 slices bacon, julienned
1 pc. large shallot, julienned
2 tbsp. brown sugar
3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1) In a pan, sauté the bacon slices over medium high heat, until just starting to brown
2) Add the sliced shallots and continue to cook until soft
3) Deglaze the pan with the balsamic vinegar, then quickly add the brown sugar
4) Allow the brown sugar to dissolve and the liquids to reduce to a light syrup
5) Remove from heat, and puree in a food processor until smooth, and refrigerate
Enjoy this spread on a crostinis with some stinky blue cheese, and you’ll never be the same again!