6 Unexpected Ways to Upgrade Your Cheese Plate
Expert advice on how to store, cut, and serve cheese, according to the Cheese Twins.
Have you heard of the Cheese Twins? It's the catchy moniker for twin brothers and cheese experts Michael and Charlie Kalish. After following different career paths -- beekeeping for Michael and a Fulbright scholarship for Charlie -- they made the leap to the cheese world and never looked back. Both brothers trained in cheesemaking and affinage (professional cheese aging) all over the world and now work as cheese consultants, brand ambassadors for Meiomi Wines, and cohosts of the Food Network's "Big Cheese." They also share their cheese knowledge on their blog, at food events across the country, and recently, in our test kitchen! Here, the Cheese Twins' top tips for taking your cheese plate to the next level.
1. SWITCH UP THE SERVING VEHICLE
While bread or crackers make fine accompaniments, there are so many more ways you can serve cheese. Try spreading cheese on sliced pears, apples, or strawberries, or dried fruit like figs or dates. (The best pairing Michael and Charlie introduced us to? Dried apricots and mascarpone cheese -- simple, accessible, and delicious.) The serving vehicle adds another textural component, makes it for easier for guests (they can just grab and go), and it's great for anyone who's gluten-free. Michael also recommends serving cheese on spoons to really let it shine. He says, "A lot of people, their instinct is to put cheese on something that downplays the flavors. I love using those tiny metallic spoons that are meant for caviar. Not only are they beautiful, but they're also perfect for cheeses that are cumbersome to hold."
2. CUT YOUR CHEESE EVERY WHICH WAY
If you put out wedges of cheese for guests to serve themselves, odds are there will be a bottleneck at the table, and you'll end up with someone who leaves broken cracker crumbs in the cheese or takes everything but the rind. Why not avoid this by cutting up at least some of the cheese yourself? Charlie says, "The trick is to distribute everything evenly. Each slice should have the same rind-to-cheese ratio. It's like cutting up a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich -- you don't want to give someone all crusts!" The ideal slicing method depends on the cheese. You can cut into wedges so that everyone gets a pizza-pie slice. Another option is to cut the cheese into bars so that each guest gets a little piece of the center and sides. Serving a triple cream? The Cheese Twins recommend slicing off the top rind and letting guests dig into the creamy interior. That way the gooey cheese stays contained and doesn't make a mess of your cheese plate.
3. USE A WIRE
A must-have tool as far as the Cheese Twins are concerned! Charlie was inspired to make the switch after working in a cheese shop outside Lyon, where "it's really popular for the cheesemongers to never touch the cheese in the deli case. They lean over with a piece of paper, drop the wire through the cheese, cheese falls onto the paper, and they wrap it up and hand it to the customer." According to Michael, the wire "makes a huge difference in how you prepare cheese. If you use a knife, you can see the slices and the harsh texture, which is fine for hard cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano because they're granular cheeses and you want to highlight the craggy chunks. But for a smooth, creamy cheese, you want that clean cut you can only get with a wire." The wire also allows you to cut a cheese like Cypress Grove's Humboldt Fog without destroying the beautiful ash line in the center.
4. BAKE SOMETHING BESIDES BRIE
If you're only serving one cheese, make it a showstopper! While baked brie is always a crowd-pleaser, why not try something a little more unique? Charlie suggests swapping in Humboldt Fog -- cut off the top rind with a wire, add some sugar, and torch it for a bruleed effect. Or follow Michael's lead and make an upscale nacho cheese: "Pick up a drum of jalapeno brie, such as the one by Marin French Cheese Company, chop off the top or cut it in half, put the cheese in a ramekin, and fire it up under the broiler. Three minutes later, you can dip chips into it. It's the best nacho cheese I've ever had!"
5. STORE YOUR CHEESE PROPERLY
A couple rules of thumb: Whenever you open the cheese, give it a new wrapping; don't leave it in the original packaging. Generally, plastic wrap is fine if you're storing cheese for a couple of days. If you're storing for a couple of weeks, use parchment paper. Wax paper works well for creamy cheese because it sticks less. Don't store cheese near the crisper drawer where there are foods with smells that might be absorbed by the cheese. Charlie adds, "If you're buying cheese in advance for a party, ask the cheesemonger what's great to eat right now and what will be at optimum ripeness the night of your event. Cheese at our house usually goes pretty quickly; we always say buy less cheese more often!"
6. ALWAYS SERVE CHEESE AT ROOM TEMPERATURE
One of the Cheese Twins' biggest pet peeves is a cheese plate that's too cold. Letting the cheeses warm up to room temperature is a vital step in creating a cheese plate. Timing depends on the temperature of your kitchen. If it's on the cooler side, 30 minutes should do the trick; if you live in a warmer climate, five minutes can be plenty. Don't let hard cheeses get to the point where they're oily and sweaty -- they'll taste a little off. Soft cheeses can overripen on the outside if it's really hot out -- you can tell because the rind will be peeling away from the cheese, and it'll smell like ammonia.