Whether it’s a meet-up with your book club, a decadent dinner with your parents, or a TGIF meal with the kids, ordering a cheese plate can be a grand shared adventure. This always-fun course is a chance to savor selections not typically found in your local grocery store, enjoying the nuances of each cheese as you work your way around the plate to the big finish.
Choosing a cheese plate may be thrilling for curd nerds, but it can feel like a daunting task for others. To help the lacto illiterate find their “whey” to the perfect platter, we spoke to four queso pros: Jill Erber, owner of Cheesetique, Cole Mathers, fromager at San Francisco’s Gary Danko Monica Bennett, the maître fromager at Old Hickory Steakhouse in National Harbor, Maryland, and Diane Gross, co-owner of Cork Wine Bar & Market in Washington, D.C. Read our tips so you can make the most of your next dining experience at a restaurant on OpenTable.
When you’re describing your likes and dislikes with the cheese specialist, get into as much detail as possible and use comparisons. “It’s our job to get the truth out of what you’re saying,” says Gross.
Always ask the cheese specialist, “What are your favorites? What do you enjoy the most?” “Allow them to help you make new choices that go beyond what you already know and love,” says Erber.
Ask for a taste
If you’re unsure about adding a particular cheese to the lineup, request a sample. “Not everyone does it,” says Gross, “but it never hurts to ask.”
Remember that variety is the spice of life
If left to their devices, people will usually choose what they know in the same style. Rather than going with all cow milk-based selections, Mathers recommends ordering a different milk type, a different texture, and a different country for each cheese. “That makes each one special and really pop on your palate,” he says. “There are lots of subtle differences that are easier to pick up on when the different flavors are more dramatic.”
Eat in order
Mathers advises enjoying cheeses in a progression, such as from drier options to those with higher moisture content, from firm to creamy, or in order of their saltiness.
Some people will hollow out soft ripened brie-style cheeses, taking only the gooey cores. “The fluffy rinds are edible and should be eaten,” says Erber.
Keep pairings simple
Mathers is a traditionalist when it comes to accouterments for a cheese platter. “Fresh fruit is the best because it has the acidity to work as a nice palate cleanser,” he says. “And plain bread because it’s a simple texture contrast. People get so creative with what they put on cheese boards – which is fun for the flavor explorations – but it makes it less about the cheese, which should always be the focus.”
Skip the citrus
“It’s is not your best friend when eating cheeses,” says Erber. “I find it too tart and acidic to pair well.”
When in doubt, order bubbles
Meatier cheese, like clothbound cheddar pair, well with beer, while soft cheeses are best complemented with wine, advises Bennett. “But Champagne goes with everything,” she says.
Don’t give up
Keep trying cheeses you don’t think you like. “You might not have liked those that you’ve had, but there could be other versions that you will like,” says Mathers.
Write down what you especially like, so you can enjoy it again in the future. Keeping a running note on your phone is a simple way to do this.
Let us know your tips for ordering a cheese plate at a restaurant and which restaurants you’re enjoying them at here or over on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter. And, remember to snap + share your #dishpics with us on Instagram for a chance to win in our weekly giveaway.
Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell and Instagram @nevinmartell.