You know what’s awesome? Cheese. All kinds of cheese. The more cheese, the better. According to vegans, cheese is the HARDEST food to give up because it’s completely addictive. It’s so good that it’s routinely stolen (remember the French cheese heist?), and faked — prompting new parmesan-detecting tech innovations.
Unfortunately, those of us who grew up with processed cheese have a pretty sharp (heh) learning curve before we can appreciate this most glorious of food groups the fancy way. Like, for instance, spread across a cheese board. If your idea of “good” cheese is Sargento instead of Kraft, it’s hard to know where to begin.
Sonya Coté, Coté Catering
Are all of the cheeses on your cheese board made in Texas?
Not all of them, but all of the components I used to accompany them are. I do tend to get Texas cheeses, but I am a sucker for trying other domestic cheeses. I do stick to domestic because I think they go better with our local jams and pickles.
What kind of cheeses should you put on a cheese board in preparation for a party?
I usually call it “man cheese.” I go for cheddar, something really sharp. And in Texas we have Redneck Cheddar from Veldhuizen Cheese Shop and a ten-year aged cheddar as well. Older cheddars are good like that. In Texas, we get a lot of goat cheese and we have a lot of goat farmers, so we do a lot of goat cheeses. I would do a mild goat cheese for someone who doesn’t have a developed palette.
Your specialty is cheese pairings, right? What is your favorite cheese pairing?
I always go for a blue cheese/honey combo with a nut or a pecan.
How is a ‘Texas cheese board different from a regular cheese board?
I do smoke chili flavor, smoke chili flake and add that to a honey. What’s growing now is pickled carrots and fresh shaved radishes. I like doing a lot of fresh and preserved and pickled things to go along with the cheeses. You could do a fresh strawberry and a strawberry jam to accent the berry.
If you serve a cheese board as an appetizer, is it still okay to have cheesy dishes in the main meal?
I wouldn’t, personally. I think if you’re featuring different cheeses. I think it’s overkill. I wouldn’t repeat something in my meal.
How can the home chef add regional flair to a cheese board?
Pickles, because you can figure out what’s in season, and that goes well with the cheese. That’s kind of the easy fix. Go find what’s growing at your farmer’s market.
Brent Delman, The Cheese Guy
How is artisan crafted cheese different from mass-produced cheese?
There’s an artistic element to it. Not everything is going to be the same — that’s kind of exciting. You can’t duplicate a great work of art. There’s a lot of artistic innovation. The definition of artisan is small batch, traditional methods, high quality, a lot of attention paid to quality. The irony is that the things that are traditional are cutting edge. Like everyone is looking for raw milk and grass-fed cheeses. It seems new and innovative, but it’s really going back to traditional methods. What’s old is new again.
Do you think that artisan crafted cheese is becoming as popular as local beer or wine?
There’s an organization called ACS (American Cheese Society). I go to their conferences every year. It’s made up of farmers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, everybody through the whole chain. Maybe ten years ago, there were at most a few hundred of us at these conferences. But there are thousands of people now, in a few short years, that are attending. The movement is just booming.
What do you think of vegan cheese?
If you could only pick one, what is your favorite kind of cheese?
I like an extremely sharp raw milk cheddar. I happen to also really like sheep’s milk cheeses.
And all your products are Kosher, right?
Yes. Production of kosher cheese is made without rennet as a coagulation. Most traditional cheese producers use animal rennet. A calf or a lamb has to be slaughtered to produce it. It fit into my philosophy.
Which cheeses are impossible to make Kosher?
Traditional European cheeses that require animal rennet. A lot of the cheeses in Europe have protected names, like a Gruyère or a Parmigiano-Reggiano — those are two protected names and they require that you have animal rennet.
So how DO you build a perfect cheese plate?
Provide a balance of flavors — mild to sharp, and a balance of textures — soft, semi-soft, semi-hard, and hard. They should be arranged in order from the lightest and freshest to the ripest and most intense. Five cheese varieties is a good number.
Can you give us some very specific reccomendations?
Soft, bloomy rind cheeses like brie and Camembert, which are creamy, buttery, and mushroomy. The longer they age, the runnier and more delicious they become. Ideas of other fresh young cheeses would be mozzarella, feta, or queso fresco, which have a higher moisture content, a softer texture, and are usually quite mild.
Fresh or aged goat’s or sheep cheese, like a fresh chevre, with or without herbs. Cheeses made from goat’s milk tend to have a more barnyard and tangy taste than cow’s milk. Aged sheep’s milk cheeses like manchego or Italian pecorinos contain more fat and protein and tend to taste sweeter, saltier, and gamier.
Semi-hard cheeses like cheddar, Monterey jack and gouda are aged longer and have less moisture than soft and fresh cheeses. Aged, hard cheeses like parmiggiano, Gouda and Gruyere become harder and more crumbly with age. They tend to be saltier and full flavored.
A blue-veined cheese should be included in every cheese board. They tend to have more assertive flavors from the mold since they are inoculated with penicillium roqueforti. Examples would be Stilton, Gorgonzola and Roquefort.
What should we pair that with?
Include savory extras, a couple of sweet accompaniments, and crackers. Savories include raw, salted, or smoked nuts, marinated olives and bread sticks. Sweets are fresh fruits like grapes, apples, berries, and fresh figs; or dried fruit like apricots, jams, or honey. Take the cheese out of the refrigerator and let it sit on the counter for at least an hour to reach room temperature before serving. Let guests slice their cheeses, as cheese that are pre-sliced can dry out. Make assorted shapes of artistic wedges, wheels, logs, or squares. The board should be arranged from mildest to strongest cheeses in a clockwise order. Accompany the cheeses with your favorite wine, beer, or sparkling fruit juices.
I love hard cheeses, something with some crystals in it. I hesitate to shout out someone we just interviewed, but I really liked The Cheese Guy’s raw milk sharp cheddar. A gouda aged for at least a year, real parmesan, or Spanish Manchego could also fit the bill. Most of those cheeses are nutty-flavored, so water crackers will do the trick. I don’t eat cheese to have the cracker take over (although I do love Raincoast Crisps). I like to pair the cheese with candied pecans or dried cherries and figs with honey. If I was using raw fruit it would be thinly sliced plums. Couple that with a nice white crisp wine — something that actually has a cold, steely taste — and I’m very happy.
Sounds kinda pretentious, right? Just try that sh*t and tell me it’s not amazing. It’s not like plums and water crackers are expensive.