For all of my adult life, I have had a serious abiding passion for cheese. I’ve heard that it has been scientifically proven that one can be addicted to cheese, and I think as far as addictions go, this doesn’t seem to me to be so bad. I think my predilection for stinky cheeses came from my first taste of chevre from the farmer’s market back when I lived in Denver. The tangy goatiness of chevre made me want to explore other soft cheeses, so various blue cheeses were the next step for me. I don’t remember the first time I ever had a cheese plate, though I would imagine it was probably traveling somewhere when I was a vegetarian and trying to find the most innocuous vegetarian thing I could on some restaurant menu. I have a memory of a particularly good cheese plate at a hotel restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island, which was my first introduction to membrillo, which is a sweet paste made out of quince fruit. I also have fond memories of traveling alone and grabbing a bit of cheese, some bread, some fruits and veggies and dark chocolate and having an informal dinner of cheese in my hotel room. It was a matter of time before I tried to reproduce these experiences as my lunch.
The key to a good cheese plate is a little variety, but not too much. Three cheeses are a good amount of cheese. In this case, I used one riper nearly blue cheese, one soft cheese, and one hard cheese. I’m fortunate that we are finally living in an area where such cheeses are accessible. If I was still somewhere very rural, I’d likely go with easy-to-find cheddar, some chevre and a blue cheese of some sort. From there, it is good to have some accompaniments for the cheese. In this case, I went with fruit – apples and strawberries; nuts – almonds; cherry chutney (I was so glad I was able to find this one jar among hundreds that are still packed); and whole wheat Ritz crackers. Cheeses definitely need a vehicle for serving and I find either simple crackers or bread work well, as does, honestly, a slice of apple. I probably used about an ounce of cheese total – it doesn’t take a lot to be filling. I also had a salad with me, which paired well.
I’ll sign off today with my favorite cheese story. Clay and I had been living in rural New Mexico, and I had a chance to go to New York City for a conference. It ended up being a crazy trip that involved flying to both NYC and Denver in a short time span. I had been doing some research about cheese and learned about Murray’s in NYC, which has wonderful cheese tasting classes. I convinced Clay that we had to sign up for one. In that process I was introduced to a cheese that was super runny when ripe. It was grassy and sweet and I had to have some, so we bought a small block. This was a cheese that is highly aromatic when ripe and it was ripening very quickly. The hotel in NYC had a refrigerator, but it was the intervening transportation to the airport and on the plane that had me worried. It was all fine – the cheese made it through in my checked luggage, but my bag was searched, and I do wonder what the TSA agent must have made of my stinky, runny cheese.
From the top, going counter clockwise: Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog (this is a ripened chevre); Le Delice De Bourgogne French Triple Creme(this is a ripened cow milk cheese); Midnight Moon Goat Gouda (this is an aged goat cheese – nicely firm).
This is the triple creme cheese and the Humboldt Fog with my cherry chutney.
The final cheese plate. To pack for lunch, I put the cheeses, fruit, and almonds in a glass Pyrex and the chutney in a separate container. The crackers went into a plastic sandwich bag. Don’t forget to bring a knife for spreading the cheese on crackers. The only thing missing for me was a good glass of wine – I think I’ll have to try this combination on a weekend sometime.
Cheese Plate Basics
One lunch size portion
6 – 8 crackers or small pieces of baguette
10 or so almonds or other nuts
1 or 2 ounces of assorted cheeses, with various textures and styles, sliced into small pieces
1/2 an apple or other fruit, sliced
2 tablespoons of chutney or other preserves