Monday, June 01, 2009

The Art of the Cheese Plate

You may have noticed that in just about every image I post about dinner, there is a cheese plate lurking in the background. My love for cheese is perhaps surpassed only by Wright's love for cheese, so when we cook dinner together, there's a 98% chance of a cheese plate (exceptions might occur when eating say, macaroni and cheese, for the main course).

Adding to our obsession with cheese (oh yes, this is way beyond the soup obsession) is the routine we've fallen into for dinners. I'm making dinner, and on his way home from work, he stops into the (all too convenient) Murray Cheese stand at Grand Central and picks up 1 or 2 (or 3!) delicious cheeses, depending on his mood. They couldn't be nicer at the cheese stand (it is located in the Grand Central Market, on the east side of the main level, FYI), and they always allow you to try different cheeses before making your selection. Usually, Wright will also pick up some of his favorite Moroccan Almonds, dates, crackers, and the like to go along side the cheese. We take cheese plates seriously.

Ina Garten, the "Barefoot Contessa," has made some very good suggestions about cheese plates that I tend to think about when putting mine together. First, she recommends choosing three cheeses - a hard, a soft, and a blue. When it's just Wright and I, we usually just do a hard and a soft. Then, for arranging, she always puts the cheese facing outwards, so that they are easy to access. Sort of like in a circle. For hard cheeses, always cut a few pieces before serving, otherwise it is intimidating to guests. Obviously, Wright and I ignore this rule, unless there actually are guests, in which case, Ina Rules All. Then, she puts various fruits and nuts in the middle of the plate, sort of in and around the cheese, as well as the crackers. Voila! An elegant cheese plate, no matter how many or few accessories you've used.

Note in this picture, we stuck simply with the almonds, but used two types of crackers. Wright also has two types of knives, one for hard cheeses and one for soft. This is unnecessary for the simple homemade cheese plate, but as stated earlier, we are pretty into cheese.

If you live in New York and love cheese, I'd highly recommend spending some time at Murrays in the West Village. They have all sorts of classes about cheese and cheese pairings, and all of the staff really know a lot. A few months ago, my cousin and I took a tour of their underground cheese caves, built underneath their store to age cheeses. We got to learn about the aging process of many different types of cheese, as well as do a cheese tasting at the end of the class, comparing young cheeses to those that had been aged. It was delicious and super informative!

Cheese can definitely be expensive, so make sure that you try the cheese (if they let you) before you buy. Also, don't be afraid to start up a conversation with whoever is behind the counter. Many of my favorite cheeses were recommendations at the store, and it helps to tell the cheese experts things like what you're having for dinner, or to point out some of the other cheeses you've tried previously and either liked or didn't like. Some of our favorite cheeses are Humboldt Fog, Goot Essa Cheddar, and Grayson - mmm delicious! Okay, I'm off to make another cheese plate.

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