This was my knowledge of cheese plates: 1) They can take the place of dessert at fancy restaurants, and are really expensive. 2) The ones I’ve seen at receptions usually consist of some Swiss, cheddar, and jalapeño jack. Maybe there would be a brie thrown into the mix. That’s it. In a nutshell, I didn’t know much about cheese plates.
So, I decided to rectify the situation. I headed to my local Whole Foods, where they have extremely knowledgeable staff in their cheese department. I spoke to Rob, a cheese monger, and he put together a classic cheese array for me to sample: a soft cheese, an aged cheese, a firm cheese, and a blue cheese. He also explained the different types of rinds used on cheese: bloomy, cloth, wax, and washed.
Whole Foods is celebrating American artisan cheeses this month, and they have a wide offering from U.S. companies. For my cheese platter, I went with Green Hill soft ripened from Sweet Grass Dairy (Georgia), Reading from Spring Brook Farm (Vermont), clothbound cheddar from Grafton Village (Vermont), blue from Rogue River (Oregon).
Next came what to pair with the cheeses. On Rob’s recommendation, I chose a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. A few different cracker varieties (toasted baguette would be good too), honey, and some fruit filled out the plate. Other suggestions could be champagne grapes, fig jam, or prosciutto. The fruit went well with all the cheeses. The honey tasted great with the cheddar and the Reading. The rosemary added some aromatics.
My best advice if you want to put together a plate on your own: don’t be afraid to ask questions! Cheese experts can recommend varieties from a specific region, and suggest alternatives to cow’s milk cheese. I tasted an amazing buffalo cheese from Italy, and a sheep’s milk cheese from the Pyrenees. Some places will give you samples before you decide on a purchase.
If you want to explore some of the fantastic artisan cheeses available at Whole Foods, then be sure to enter the giveaway for a $50 gift card! Click here to enter. Giveaway ends on Monday, August 19th. Update: giveaway ended
Disclosure: I received a gift card from Whole Foods to purchase ingredients. All opinions are my own.