I flew from Los Angeles to New York last night. The flight was delayed several times because of weather. By the time the plane was ready I suddenly didn’t have enough time to get the LaBrea Bakery sandwich which is my routine. I had some trail mix and a copy of the New York Times and that was it. Very ill prepared for the journey.
By the time the “food” choices came around I was hungry. I opted for what was advertised as a fruit and cheese plate. This consisted of three pieces of dried apricot, 3 walnut halves and 4 pieces of variations on cows milk cheese: a cheddar, brie, munster and another tan, bland bite of something. I looked up the origin of this concept in the airline magazine. It seems that United has an executive chef. By the look of this 8 dollars worth of hardened cows milk in front of me I would say that he needs to get out of Chicago more; or maybe get into Chicago more. At least the beer was cold.
The good news is that it got me thinking about this piece and my experiences in Europe (and especially France) where cheeses are taken seriously. Most meals in France end with a substantial cheese board from which to select a few tastes of various varieties. I don’t always choose the cheese but I enjoy it mightily when I do.
Granted, United Airlines has to consider all of their customers when designing their cheese plate. I suppose that this limits the boldness of which most good cheeses would embody. But, the mistake with the cheese selection was that it was all from a single animal. Any milk producing mammal can be a source of cheese. There are cheeses from goats, sheep, buffalo as well as the ubiquitous cow. There is also a texture range from soft and runny to hard and crumbly. There is an age range (often following the texture range) from fresh, such as mozzarella, to aged such as pecorino or parmesan. There is also a taste range from mild and creamy to sharp and pungent.
Here is my suggestion for an enjoyable cheese plate to be served as an appetizer or cheese course.
- 3 oz. Soft, Runny Cheese (brie, havarti, taleggio)
- 3 oz. Aged, Mild Cheese (Aged Gouda, Pecorino, Parmesan)
- 3 oz. Stinky Cheese (Camenbert, Blue, Stilton)
- 3 oz. Goat Cheese (plain or herb coated)
- Handful of Seedless Grapes
- 1 Sliced Pear
- 1 Sliced Apple (Tart is best)
- 2-3 Sliced Figs
- Selection of Dried, Cured Meats (optional)
- Chef’s Knife
- Cheese Knifes
- Board or Platter for Presentation
- Go shopping for cheese at a good cheese shop, not your corner grocery. Each city has at least one cheese shop, sometimes included in a gourmet department of a large grocery. Even my hometown of Zanesville, Ohio had a cheese shop.
- Remove the cheese from the refrigerator about an hour before serving. Some cheese does not open up until it is at room temperature. One of my favorite cheeses – taleggio – tastes like nothing until it starts to run a little. It needs a minimum of an hour. When in doubt, ask the person at the cheese shop how long each of the cheeses need to “open up”.
- Slice the fruit.
- If you are serving this as an appetizer, I suggest serving some nice cured meats such as prosciutto, speck, mortadella.
- Arrange all on the board or platter with an assortment of little knives. There is actually a set of cheese knives available at fru-fru cooking stores, but a few butter knives will do.