Cook This Now: Five Rules for Crafting an Epic Cheese Plate

By Liz A. Tue, December 15, 2015
Beautifully crafted cheese plates
Beautifully crafted cheese plates
Delicious local blue cheeses
Delicious local blue cheeses
Perfect holiday cheese plate
Perfect holiday cheese plate

by Peggy Paul Casella for Fair Food

Want to be a cheese plate hero this holiday season? Follow these five guidelines for guaranteed success, and head to the Farmstand for the perfect selection of locally made, farmstead cheese. Right now, our goat and sheep’s milk cheeses are especially flavorful (don’t miss Roundtop Farm’s Sheep Camembert, Meadowset Farm’s Summer Blues, and Yellow Springs Farm’s Cloud Nine and Nutcracker). And of course we’re always well stocked with crowd-pleasing favorites, like Valley Milkhouse’s Thistle (our region’s only raw brie-style cheese); Clover Creek’s Mature Aged Cheddar; Birchrun Hills Farm’s Blue and Fat Cat; Doe Run’s St. Malachi and Seven Sisters; and much, much more.

Mix it up
Whether your cheese plate is for finicky eaters or adventurous gourmands, always choose a variety of flavors, textures, and styles. At the very least, include one soft cheese (Brie, chèvre, Camembert), one firm cheese (cheddar, Gouda, Gruyere, Parmesan), and one blue cheese (gorgonzola, Stilton, Roquefort). Or go by animal, with one cow’s milk, one goat’s milk, and one sheep’s milk. If your guests are more adventurous cheese lovers, explore the stinkier side of the cheese case, adding a taleggio-esque hunk (like Keswick’s Talegginator); some limburger; or a semi-soft, washed-rind cheese like Doe Run’s Bathed in Victory or Birchrun Hills Farm’s Red Cat.

Have just the right amount
Generally, you should limit your selection to five cheeses or fewer, and plan for three to four ounces per guest. Too many cheeses can overwhelm the palate and make for a cluttered display.

Don’t over accessorize
All cheeses are made with the same four basic ingredients—milk, cultures, coagulant, and salt—and the myriad resulting flavors and textures are a study in nuances. So, while you might be tempted to slather your cheeses with homemade preserves, infused honey, and other accoutrements, remember that the purpose of a cheese plate is to let the cheeses shine. Dial it back to some sliced baguette, a small bowl of olives or cornichons, and another small bowl of mustard, honey, or fruit spread, making sure to choose accompaniments that will complement each of the cheeses on your plate.

Label each cheese
Unless you’d like to spend the evening repeating the same tasting notes over and over again, make name tags for each of your cheeses, along with a few descriptive words. For instance, “Hickory on the Hill from The Farm at Doe Run / Coffee-washed, Apline-style, raw cow’s milk.”

Give it a rest
Yes, all cheeses will last longer when stored in the fridge, but their flavors and textures are best at room temperature. Let your cheeses rest on the kitchen counter for about one hour before serving.

Cook This Now is presented in partnership with Fair Food and The Food Trust’s Farmers’ Market Program.

Fair Food works to support sustainable agriculture in the Delaware Valley region through their all-local grocery store, the Fair Food Farmstand in Reading Terminal Market; the Double Dollars program, which provides up to an additional $10 a week for SNAP recipients to spend on local food at the Farmstand; the Philly Farm & Food Fest, our annual local foods expo; and the annual Philadelphia Local Food Guide. Get in touch at info@fairfoodphilly.org.

The Food Trust, in partnership with Get Healthy Philly, operates more than 25 farmers' markets in Philadelphia, including Clark Park Farmers' Market, Philly's oldest year-round market, and Headhouse Farmers' Market, the city's largest outdoor market. Many of The Food Trust's farmers' markets are located in neighborhoods that otherwise lack access to healthy foods and accept SNAP (food stamp) benefits and Philly Food Bucks to make fruits and vegetables affordable to everyone.

Click here for a complete list of Philadelphia farmers' markets that accept Philly Food Bucks.


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