Belle Année on Assembling a Cheeseboard

Once a month, the Chef John Besh blog will feature a guest blog post from one of Chef Besh’s closest friends, Jessica Bride. This New Orleans native is an amazing wife, mother of three, avid traveler, soon-to-be cookbook author, and she co-founded the John Besh & Bride Mayor Chefs Move! Scholarship

There were two unmistakable signs in my life that I had reached adulthood.  The first was that I started keeping scissors in my kitchen accepting that, for the rest of my life, I would need to be able to cut open bags of frozen peas and the plastic bag inside of cereal boxes and that there was a better method than using my teeth.

The second was when I learned how to assemble a cheeseboard.  I was 25 and living on my own in NYC.  It was empowering to know that for a small amount of money and a little bit of effort I could invite people over for a wine and cheese gathering.  Pretentious too.  Empowering and Pretentious. Jackpot.

The problem with cheese, like Google, is that the more you learn the more you realize there is to know.  Before you know it you too are sending pictures of cats singing Christmas carols.  At some point you have to just declare, “Enough!”  There is a middle ground between tossing Nacho Cheese Flavored Doritos into a basket and being shunned from dinner parties for accurately pronouncing the Sternschnuppe that you had a friendly German goat herder you befriended on SnapChat mail to you.

Once you recognize this middle-ground it only makes sense to be able to put it together to create a winning cheeseboard.   And this, along with scissors, propels you into bona fide adulthood.  At any age.

The secret to a winning cheeseboard is finding cheeses and accompaniments that go well together and that appeal to your guests.  Once you invite someone over, this is no longer about you.   You want to create something that is enticing and gorgeous…and that says, “I did this for you!”

Logically, the first thing you need is a tray or plate to serve the cheese on.   You want this to be flat, large and rustic.  It looks way better to serve cheese on something that may have been collected from a building site than on your grandmother’s best china.  One of my secrets is, actually, using building materials.  You can pick up 18-inch-square paving slates or marble tile samples for $5- $10 from Home Depot or a tile showroom.   Alternatively use your darkest wood cutting board.  Remember to consider the size – you want your platter to look full but not crowded.

The next thing you need is a different knife for each cheese and a small spoon for any gooey cheeses.

After that you need a baguette and plain water crackers.  For a baguette you are looking for something long and thin that you can slice into pieces just thinner than your pinky finger.  For crackers your best bet is your favorite variety of Carr’s Water Biscuits.

Now, you have your serving platter, your knives and your bread.  Let’s add the cheese!

 

For the beginner:

It is important to remember your audience.   If your guest of honor is Aunt Myrtle and she thinks the McRib is exotic, don’t  make her uncomfortable with a  bunch of retched dairy products.  You can show off your expertise by making your cheeseboard simple and beautiful…and perfectly pitched.

For the beginner cheese board, select one cheese in each of these three categories:

Hard:

One year aged Manchego.  (Spain)
Midnight Moon (Holland)
One year aged Gouda (Holland)
Cabot Creamery Clothbound Cheddar (USA)
Cave Aged Gruyere (Switzerland)

Soft:

Saint Andre (France)
Vermont Creamery Cremont (USA)

Stinky:

Gorganzola Mountain (Italy)
Epoisses (France)
Cambozola (Germany)

And add a few extras:

1 bunch of sweet red grapes, washed, dried and portioned into small bunches of 5-10 grapes each.

 

Intermediate:

Here you are putting together a cheeseboard for a group of friends or coworkers with generous dining-out allowances from their work, spouses or trust funds.  These are people who you know love wine and cheese and who will appreciate the extra effort you make.  These are cheeses that are a little more intense in flavor and might need to be located at a store with a specialty cheese section. 

Pick one cheese in each of these four categories: 

Hard:

Aged Manchego (Spain)
Aged Gouda (Dutch)
Cabot Creamery Clothbound Cheddar (USA)
Comte (France)
Roth Kase Roth Granqueso (USA)

Soft:

Saint Andre  (French)
Vermont Creamery Cremont (USA)
La Tur (French)
Explorateur (French)

Stinky:

Epoisses (French)
Morbier (French)
Stinking Bishop (England)

Blue:

Gorganzola Mountain (Italy)
Stilton (England)
Bay Blue, Point Reyes (USA)
Roaring Forties (Australia)

And add a few extras:

1 bunch of sweet red grapes, washed and portioned into small bits
A piece of spicy dried salami, partially sliced (leaving some for your guests to slice)
Quince paste or fig jam

 

Advanced:

Now, you are ready to show off.  Trainspotters only on this one.  These cheeses are mostly the same as intermediate but you are going to add a cheese category and let your cheeses tell a story.  Select all cheeses typical for their country of origin for instance or all cheeses from one country and get people to guess the country.  Also consider serving a sweet wine – such as a vintage port no younger than 25 years old or a Sauternes, a sweet white wine from France.  Also you are going to up your game on the accompaniments including paring special oatcakes with blue cheese instead of just crackers.  This one is going to cost a little more money and will be a centerpiece for a cocktail evening or a very special dessert for a large dinner party.

Hard:

Aged Manchego (Spain)
Aged Gouda (Holland)
Parmesean (Italy) served with a Parmesean knife
Pecorino Romano (Italy)

Soft:

Brie de Meaux (France)
La Tur (French)
Delice de Bourgogne (France)
Brillat-Savarin (France)
Explorateur (France)
Robiola Piemonte (Italy)

Stinky:

Epoisses (France)
Morbier (France)
Vacherin Mont D’Or (Switzerland)
Jasper Hill Farm Winnimere (USA)
Fontina d'Aosta (Italy)

Blue:

Gorganzola Mountain (Italy)
Stilton (England)
Roaring Forties (Australia)
Dolcelatte (Italy)
Bay Blue, Point Reyes (USA)

Goat:

Humbolt Fog (USA)
Valencay (France)
Vermont Creamery Coupole (USA)

And add a few extras:

1 bunch of sweet red grapes, washed and portioned into small bits
A piece of spicy dried salami, partially sliced (leaving some for your guests to slice)
Quince paste or fig jam
1 box of oatcake crackers to pair with the blue cheese in addition to the other crackers and baguette
6oz thinly sliced Brasaola (air dried beef)
A handful of pickled vegetables
A handful of olives with seeds

(Nothing says sophistication like serving olives with pits and watching your guests hold intelligent conversation while trying to suavely discard an olive pit from their mouths.   Don’t forget the little cup to catch all the disgustingly chewed up remains set near, but not on, the cheeseboard)

Final notes:

Plan on 3-5 oz of cheese per person depending on whether it is a dessert course (less needed) or a stand alone party tray (more needed)

Make an effort to remember the names of the cheeses and their countries of origin.  If you have a terrible memory then just write them down as you unwrap and discard the labels.   If all goes well you will, most certainly, be asked to write them down for an adoring fan.

And very lastly, cheese is about a million times better if it is served at room temperature – especially really ooey gooey stinky cheeses.  Take them out several hours in advance and let them come to room temperature.  For ooey gooey cheeses (like Epoisses) put them in a warm spot for a few hours.  Maybe  a location that catches the sun for an hour, or on the counter near you oven.

And that’s it!  Piece of cake.  Cheesecake of course.

For more from Jessica Bride, visit www.belleannee.com