Madame Fromage‘s Tenaya: As much as I love to eat cheese myself, I really love making cheese boards for other people. I’ll think about their personality – their tastes, their interests – and I’ll let that guide me toward dairy inspiration. It’s like making a mix tape. If someone likes hot food or needs a kick, I’ll create a smoky-spicy board. Or if I know they dig triple crèmes, I’ll go out of my way to pick some wild smoothies and pair them with bubbly and jam.
A few weeks ago, a monkish friend moved into my neighborhood, so of course I wanted to create the perfect housewarming cheese board. I chose “local” as my theme, which allowed me to source from the dairy case of a nearby urban farm, Greensgrow, and since my monkish friend once lived in a Benedictine abbey, I decided to mine a few religious references.
Here’s what the modern monk got on his housewarming board:
Banon – This is a sweet little goat-cheese gem wrapped in brandy-soaked grape leaves. It’s made in Pennsylvania (at Amazing Acres), but the style originates in Provence and dates back to Roman times—very appropriate for anyone who enjoys robes and ritual. The leaves are edible, but it’s also lovely to peel them back and scoop out the soft, fruity center. No housewarming cheese board should be without this gift-like delicacy.
Full Nettle Jack – A cheese with stinging nettles? I felt it would be appropriate for my friend Gerard who knows every feast day by heart and the story behind every sainted martyr. From Cherry Grove Farm in New Jersey, this natural-rinded Jack cheese has enough acidic gusto to enrobe the vegetal flavors of stinging nettles. The combination reminds me of a cheese-and-pickle sandwich.
Arcadia – My monk friend loves Cheddar, and this local variation was his favorite wedge on the board. It’s made by Hillacres Pride Dairy in Pennsylvania, and while it’s a very new cheese, the Grecian origins of the name struck me as appropriate for a new homeowner. “Arcadia” is both a place – a kind of paradise — and a mythical state of mind.
Cremifacto Verde Capra – It’s bad luck to serve a cheese board without a blue, or maybe I just made that up. With three luxurious, rather vegetal cheeses already slated for the party, I decided to swing by Di Bruno Bros. for a velvety goat’s milk blue. Verde Capra, which means “green goat,” fit the monk’s eco lifestyle, and I figured if he had leftover blue, he could stuff it into olives. The monk makes a mean martini.
Do you need help designing a cheese board? Don’t go to the trouble of researching cheese the way this nerd girl does. Just follow a few quick rules of thumb, and you’ll be able to pick a splendid selection for any occasion.
Madame Fromage’s Cheese Board
- Plan on 3 to 5 cheeses for your cheese board. Any more and your taste buds will begin to flash warning lights. Better to get 3 mind-blowing beauties than 5 “meh” wedges, too.
- Select cheeses of different textures, ranging from soft to hard. Plate them as a spectrum – and eat the softest ones first. You’ll find that’s a nice way to progress from milky cheeses to stronger nibbles.
- Serve some fruit and one or two condiments – fig jam is always a good bet, so is honey, especially for soft to medium-firm cheeses. Here are some of my other fave pairings: cherry jam (for soft cheese), grainy mustard (for Cheddars), date cake, toasted almonds or walnuts, oaty biscuits.
- Pick up a mix of beers or veer toward white wines to serve with a cheese board. Play around – few beverages will work with every cheese, though Riesling tends to be “O Negative.” Red wines are tricky to work with. I lean toward Belgian ales and Champagne for soft cheeses, then ramp up to a stout or port/scotch for strong Cheddars and blues.
- Enjoy! 🙂
For more pairing ideas, please visit Madame Fromage.
* All photography courtesy of Madame Fromage