By: Emily Westervelt
Close friends join to dine. Then you all drink wine. Hi-ho the derry-o, it’s cheese party time!
There’s no denying how scrumptious the combo is, but if you’ve ever wondered how to compose the perfect cheese orchestration, look no further. From The Cheese Store of Silverlake to Mignon downtown, we’ve got guidance galore that you can easily apply to your next hors d’oeuvre fest with your bosom buddies. For the purposes of this tutorial, let’s say you’re working with four different cheeses and that you’re purchasing from your local cheese shop, as opposed to the grocery store. An artisan boutique will truly have the widest array and deepest understanding of the product.
To begin, let’s touch on the milk options. According to Kirsten at The Cheese Store, “For home cheese plates, variety is truly the spice of life.” AKA: fear not the cheese made from sheep / goat / buffalo milk. With each milk comes a slight tweak in the taste and an evolution of texture. Shall we begin with a crowd-pleaser? Of the milder, creamy variety, a French Basque cheese of sheep’s milk is dependably palate-friendly. Go with the semi-firm Etorki, Pilota, or the Ossau-Iraty. All of those names are “technical terms that will cross boundaries” among artisan cheese mongers, according to Kirstern. She also went so far as to say, “Nobody does not like this cheese… If someone asks for something for a child to eat, I will present them with that.”
Now, to juxtapose that smooth, creamy goodness: incorporate a dense, washed rind cheese, like an aged Gouda. As curds age to form the delectable treat we know as cheese, they are watchfully tended. Various styles of TLC influence the final taste – meaning, some cheeses are literally washed and wiped as they turn to form. Anything from simple brine, to beer, wine or brandy can be used. (The Cheese Store offers a beer-washed cheese, if you happen to be curious…)
For those who love a bit of a stronger cheese, try a Gruyere – an Alpine cheese from Switzerland. Not all Swiss cheese resembles the sliced, holed, vacuum-packed squares hanging in the cold cuts aisle. Kirsten mentioned this cheese, because it tends “to be very well-made and can range from floral to actually almost quite stinky (the cheese expert’s term for pungent).”
The final element of your plate can be one of many things. You could choose to continue with the creamy variety and purchase some Pecorino, another smooth sheep’s milk cheese that often pleases people who enjoy Brie. There’s also the aged Cheddar, for those who like a rich, harder cheese; it’s generally a little sharper than the aged Gouda but similar in texture. Or, for those who really want to go strong and stinky, you can always try a Blue variety. When you visit your cheese store, sample several before you buy, tell your merchants what you like, and odds are they’ll be choosing your last component while you’re still describing what you like about the piece that’s in your mouth.
On that note, seek your cheese chooser’s opinion on libation pairings as well. Kirsten shared that, “More often than not, opposites attract. Your stronger washed rinds and blues love a slightly sweeter wine.” So, if in doubt, seek the expert’s expertise. Another piece of advice she mentioned really stuck with me. Treat your locally sourced cheeses like all other farmer’s market goods. Freshly made Burrata and Mozzarella are really most delicious when eaten within a few days of purchase. Did you know that The Cheese Store of Silverlake flies in a particular Burrata from Italy? It literally arrives with Italian ice in the case still frozen from when it left the country.
We could go on for days discussing the most elegant at-home variety plate for your chic cocktail party. However, if you happen to be dining out in L.A. and still want to satisfy that “cheese plate craving”, be sure to pop by Mignon downtown on 6th & Main. They change their cheese offerings every few weeks, but the owner, Santos Uy, recommends, “hands down the Cana di Cabra. It’s a bloomy rind goat’s milk cheese from Spain that’s quite similar to a Boucheron. It ripens from the outside in so it has a nice gooey ring around the chalky center.” I visited the restaurant last week with two of my close friends. The atmosphere is welcoming; the lighting is soft; the wall décor is perfectly mixed and matched. Plus, happy hour Mon. – Sat. 6PM – 8PM. You’ll definitely want to order several of their small plates. Everything we had (5 Cheese Plate, Mortadella/Apple Balsamic/Miticrema, Heirloom Tomatoes/ Basil/Olive Oil/Sea Salt) was absolutely delish.
So, whether you’re home with your best pals or out on the town with them, sit on a tuffet and enjoy the curds from your whey. Cheers to cheese and wine with your chums!