A cheese platter, when carefully planned, has as many flavour nuances, multifaceted characters or countless varieties as a selection of fine wine. Key differentiations include texture, milk types, strength, colour and types of cheese. But choice and complexity in food can be a daunting experience so we went to local experts for advice on how to build a simple cheese board.
“The ultimate goal is to please your guests,” says Jane Kemp, owner at La Jolie Cheese Shop in Aurora. If you’re getting together as a group of foodies, there may be more room to experiment; whereas if you’re serving for a family event, you may want go with what Kemp calls the “crowd pleasers.”
Whatever your guest list entails, a cheese board typically includes a soft cheese, a semi-soft and a hard cheese, and possibly a blue cheese. While the soft cheese tends to be milder in flavour, the hard cheese brings a sharper taste.
Kemp recommends starting with a triple crème Brie. “It’s very decadent, and to some people that’s their definition of cheese,” she says. For a semi-soft, she suggests the Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar, which was recently named the grand champion at the World Cheese Awards; “it’s an excellent conversation piece,” says Kemp. She would also choose an Ossau-iraty, which is a hard cheese produced from sheep’s milk in France. Kemp says including cheese by different sources – such as sheep and goat – is a great way to “add a little twist.” Adding a chalky goat cheese to the mix, like the Blanc Bleu de Rizet, is a great option for guests who may have a lactose allergy.
When it comes time to taste the cheese, Kemp recommends relying on your range of senses. First, approach it aesthetically. “The rind is beautiful, and it helps determine what’s been done with the cheese,” she says. Next is the aroma, which will express another dimension. When tasting, try a small piece without any cracker or bread first. “Taste the cheese and savour it; let your mouth pick it up, like a wine,” says Kemp. Then follow with a sip of wine to compliment and bring out the tail end flavour of the cheese, similarly to the way a crisp apple slice helps to bring out the sweetness of cheddar – although Kemp points out fresh pear or fig is a better match for Avonlea.
Mike Gionfriddo, cheese buyer for Michael-Angelo’s in Aurora, agrees a cheese platter should have many different elements. For a soft, Gionfriddo recommends Boursin, a French cream cheese that comes in many different flavours. For a semi-soft cheese, he suggests an aged cheddar like the Black River Maple Cheddar. Then for a firm cheese, Gionfriddo would select an Italian Asiago. When it comes to serving, Gionfriddo stresses temperature is key. “Even if you’re eating it with crackers and grapes at home by yourself, leave the cheese out on the counter anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes before serving,” he says. “The warmer it is, the more flavourful.”
If you’re relatively new to the cheese scene, Oak Ridges Food Market keeps it simple with their “Cheese From Around the World” platter, featuring a soft, an aged, a firm cheese, and sometimes a blue. Store manager Anthony Greco suggests choosing a Camembert—a soft, creamy cheese from Normandy—and an aged cheese like Comte, which features a dusty brown rind and a pale, creamy inside. For the firm, he’d go with Parmigiano-Reggiano, and he’d finish the platter with something blue, like Gorgonzola.
Don’t forget to label the cheeses so you can share the information on what they each are with your guests. Today, most supermarkets have a good selection of cheeses, but if you want some expert guidance, these dedicated cheese shops are your best bet.
Lynn Ogryzlo is a food, wine and travel writer, international award winning author and regular contributor to Look Local Magazine. She can be reached for questions or comments at www.lynnogryzlo.ca.
Article by Lynn Ogryzlo & Charlotte Ottaway
La Jolie Cheese Shop, Aurora
Oak Ridges Food Market, Oak Ridges