The Perfect Plate
You can find cheese plates in every type of restaurant these days, from neighborhood pub to expensive bistro. And while not all are created equal, there’s a growing emphasis among restaurateurs, chefs, and pastry chefs (who are often in charge of cheese purchasing, as well as plating) on well-developed cheese programs. The trickle-down effect is that home cooks and caseophiles are increasingly turning to the cheese plate as an easy, affordable way to enjoy a simple meal, or to wow guests. Here, three chefs whose restaurants are known nationwide for their provocative cheese selections share their secrets to creating a great plate. Follow these tips, and be prepared for the compliments to roll in.
Pastry Chef, Vie and Perennial Virant
Pastry chef Elissa Narow of Chicago’s Vie and Perennial Virant, sticks to domestic selections. At Perennial Virant she uses Midwestern cheeses exclusively, because they’re so abundant and the quality is so high. Favorites include Wisconsin’s Saxon Homestead Creamery and Shepherd’s Way Farms, in Minnesota.
Get creative.“Think about your favorite food pairings. For example, grilled cheese and tomato soup can be translated into oven-roasted tomatoes or tomato jam, which go with most cheeses. I also love Chimay cheese served with beer bread, and Langres with Champagne gelée [traditionally, it’s served with the bubbly poured over it].”
Let cheese go solo. “I always like to eat cheese on its own, first, so I place the accompaniments on the side, as opposed to directly on top of the cheese.”
Don’t forget to taste. “Be sure you actually try the cheeses with your intended accompaniments, to make sure the pairing works.”
Executive Chef/Partner, A Voce
Missy Robbins, executive chef and partner at Manhattan’s A Voce, and former Food & Wine Best New Chef, keeps an Italianate focus when it comes to cheese. And rather than serving several cheeses with the same accompaniments, Robbins serves each variety with its own carefully considered pairing. Depending on the season, diners might find Scimudin with pickled cherries, or Brunet with cippolini onions and Balsamico.
Plate with care.“Use a large plate or board for serving, so the cheeses really stand out. At A Voce we use a separate vehicle for our condiments so they don’t get lost, and the cheese plate stays clean of syrups and oils.”
Think outside the box.“Try to stay seasonal with your accompaniments, but be open to experimentation. Nuts, fruits, and honey are such obvious choices. Try savory items such as mixed herbs in a salad or pesto; roasted onions; mostarda; or pickled vegetables.”
Executive Chef, Paley’s Place
Paley’s Place, in Portland, Oregon, consistently wins kudos for its Pacific Northwest–inflected cuisine, and that includes the cheese plate. Executive chef Patrick McKee celebrates local dairies such as River’s Edge Chévre, Rogue Creamery, and Black Sheep Creamery, and pairs them up with Paley’s delectable fruit-and-nut bar
Mix things up.“I like the textures of the cheeses to vary considerably, even if they’re all from the same type of milk. I always have one truffled cheese on our board, such as Pecorino al Tartufo; maybe a soft, creamy, bloomy rind; a firmer, Cheddar style; and a blue. I also mix domestic and import cheeses . . . there are just too many good things from Europe not to.”
Display for impact.“I present cheeses differently, depending on their size or style. Smaller format, oozy varieties, I serve whole on a small plate, so they won’t spread onto the other cheeses. Medium-size cheeses cut in half or quarters. A great cheese for this is Sunset Bay, from River’s Edge Chévre in Oregon. It has a line of pimentón running through it, and it showcases beautifully cut this way. Larger cheeses I cut as a wedge [a general rule of thumb is to allow about one ounce of cheese per person], so it doesn’t dominate the other cheeses on the plate.”
Written by Laurel Miller