Did somebody say cheese?
Smile and say cheese, doll. It’s time to celebrate the beloved party staple that never gets old — the cheese plate. Today we welcome into the salon Tia Keenan, the famed Chef Fromager and author of the new book, The Art of the Cheese Plate, and you’re invited. So grab a glass of Amaro and a chunk of old-world pecorino and listen in as Tia slices through the confusion and shares her no-fail tips for creating and serving a memorable plateau de fromage.
Let’s start at the beginning. What’s your advice for selecting cheeses for a cheese plate?
Develop the same kind of relationship with your local cheesemonger that you have with your butcher or fishmonger. Cheese is seasonal and always in flux, and even though I’m considered a cheese expert, I still default to a cheesemonger’s familiarity with his or her own products. To guide the cheesemonger, provide him or her with one word to describe the texture you want and another word to describe the flavor. For instance, crumbly and salty, or creamy and tangy. The cheesemonger can guide your choices from there.
What about pairings? What are your tips for choosing foods and condiments to pair with cheese?
There are really two types of pairings — ones that mimic flavors and ones where the ingredients push up against each other as opposites. Classic pairings include dried fruits, nuts, pickles, jams, and mustards. But ultimately pairings are about the audience and the occasion. Think of it this way — you might wear a chiffon dress and neutral heels to one event and the same chiffon dress with chunky black boots to another. Cheese pairings are the same.
Your book is filled with inspiring accompaniments, including tandoori cashews, rose petal jam, matcha marshmallows, and mosto-glazed bacon. What advice would you give party hosts who want to take more risks with pairings?
The first step is to get comfortable with the basics of cheese pairings. Once you’ve done that, you can move beyond them. That’s why I included a flight in my book called “Eat Your Idols.” It’s a straight-up traditional cheese plate, that includes a bloomy cheese, a hard cheese, and a blue cheese, that will help people get comfortable with the concept of pairing via iconic cheeses that are familiar to them.
Where does all this leave the classic pairing of cheese and crackers?
Crackers on a cheese plate are lazy choices, although I certainly understand the affordability factor. I’m really trying to disrupt the tired cheese-plate clichés and encourage people to think outside the box when serving cheese.
Do you have any cheese plate no-nos or must-dos?
I don’t really believe in no-nos. Everyone is at a different place in their lives and with their palates. I always try to meet people where they’re at and then perhaps give them a little push or encourage them to push forward themselves. As for must-dos, I always tell people to eat the rind on bloomy cheeses. That’s how they were meant to be enjoyed. I don’t ever like to see the rind of a brie sitting on an otherwise empty plate. It’s like a crime scene to me!
Let’s talk about pairing cocktails with cheese. What works best?
Hard cheeses and hard liquor go well together. Specifically, I like to pair Mimolette, Grana Padana, and Bianco Sardo with time-tested classic sips like a Negroni, a Cognac Sidecar, or an Amaro. When you have too many layers in a cocktail and try to pair it with cheese, the flavors can get muddled — pun intended.
In your new book, you make a case for single-serve cheese plates over communal ones. Why is that?
Single-serve cheese plates are one of the things that people really love to eat in restaurants but for some reason are hesitant to serve when entertaining at home. I come from a restaurant background, so I like incorporating a cheese course. I see it as an opportunity to elevate the entertaining experience.
What about serving cheese? What should we know about preserving the integrity of the cheese we serve?
Serve cheese at room temperature. Often that means taking it out of the refrigerator for 30 minutes before serving. For bigger pieces, it could take longer. If you’re serving one-to-two-ounce portions on single plates, cut the pieces just before you’re ready to serve them so they don’t dry out, sweat, or show any of the other undesirable tendencies of butterfat.
What are some of your personal favorite ways to serve cheese?
Adding individual touches when presenting your cheese plate is what’s going to make people say “wow.” I love using garage-sale plates and heirloom pieces. As for new pieces, I really like this cheese platter from MUD, this Jeremy Ayers Large Noir Plate, and this Gourmet Trio Plate. For cheese knives, I like this set from CB2.
What’s on your dream cheese plate for fall?
As the weather cools, I gravitate more toward meatier cheeses, which are washed-rind and hard cheeses.
How to Create the Perfect Cheese Plate
Photo and Quote Welcome Mashup
Photo: Elizabeth Taylor
Quote: The Aristocats, 1970
Photo sources: Kerstin Rodgers, Rizzoli