Monday April 25, 2011
Cheese Plate or Dessert? have both!
Assembling a cheese plate means taking a little bit of time to think things through, to consider the elements as a whole. What factors should you bear in mind to make a great cheese plate?
First, don’t crowd the plate with too many cheeses, choose just three or four. Too many cheeses will overwhelm the palate, too few will bore. If you chose a theme you can narrow your focus: the cheeses of a particular country, style, or type. Serve with a crunchy accompaniment like toasted baguette or good quality crackers; if homemade, all the better. Don’t neglect the accoutrement, from a drizzle of honey to a selection of dried fruits, these elements offer the contrasting textures and flavors that will make a cheese plate shine. Pair with the right wine to enhance the overall experience. Don’t forget to relax and enjoy yourself! A cheese plate should either give an opportunity to enjoy old favorites, or to explore new flavors, or both. You can even consider a cheese plate as a dessert, it has the class and flavor needed to end almost any meal. Lastly, don’t forget a pound of sugar.
Okay, that last one only applies in one circumstance. When a cheese plate isn’t just considered a dessert, but when it’s literally dessert.
One of the things I love most about my job is the sheer number of spectacular ingredients floating around the kitchen. We have a fixed fromage menu 26 cheeses deep, plus a half dozen or so that we don’t have regularly enough to commit to the menu, but that drift in and out from week to week.
With all that cheese at my disposal, the Pastry People of the World could probably press criminal charges against me if I didn’t learn how to incorporate them into my repertoire. Not that it would come to that, no one needs to encourage me to raid the cheese bin; in fact, I weekly have a container of cheeses pressed onto me.
As each wheel or block of cheese approaches its end, it becomes too small or awkwardly shaped for garde manger to slice into attractive portions. These perfectly excellent but strangely shaped “scraps” have become my inheritance.
I dice these heels of cheese and make mini savory scones which serve as a bonus item for the charcuterie plate. Any given batch of scones contains a dozen or more kinds of cheese and this weekly routine has provided me ample opportunity to sample and get to know each cheese of our 26+ cheeses. Have I mentioned I love my job?
But a life of savory scones didn’t really hold much appeal for me in the long term, and I wanted to start using these cheeses in sweet applications too. I liked the idea of trying to find a dessert that would evoke a classic cheese plate and play by the same rules. Three or four cheeses served with dried fruit, honey, wine and some homemade crackers. Graham crackers.
As with classic cheesecake, I use cream cheese as a base. Through the restaurant I have the incredibly good fortune of sourcing Amish cream cheese from the Ohio Valley, which makes a very good base indeed. (I’d link to them, but, um like I said, they’re Amish…) I also use Bûcheron, VBC Petit Crottin, and Saint-Marcellin.
I love Bûcheron not just because it lives, ever-present, in the restaurant kitchen or because its affordability helps me keep my food cost down. I wouldn’t give a sheet pan about those factors if it didn’t deliver a classic goat cheese flavor. Oh, but does it ever. Bûcheron comprises the bulk of this recipe after the cream cheese and functions as the real workhorse, shifting the flavor profile decidedly away from the traditional.
As does the VBC Crottin. It’s producers aptly described it as, “mild, lemony and floral with a slightly nutty finish.” I can only describe its contribution to the cheesecake as making the final flavor prettier. I love this cheese, I love the bright, clean flavor it imparts to the dessert.
The final cheese, the one that goes the farthest in transforming this recipe from mundane to insane? Saint-Marcellin, a cow’s milk cheese from France. It has the most savory flavor of the cheeses I use. When I think of Saint-Marcellin, I always think of its nuttiness (though it can get quite mushroomy as it ages) and it really puts the cheese in this cheesecake.
Because the classic cheese plate inspired this dessert, I let the cheeses speak for themselves by keeping the other ingredients simple. Eggs for structure, sugar for sweetness, Tonga vanilla bean for a floral note to tame the mustiness, and a touch of acidity from lemon to bring the fattiness of the cheesecake into balance.
Even though every ingredient in this recipe has an important role to play, it’s the Saint-Marcellin can make or break it. Without it, all I have is a goat cheese cheesecake; pretty passé in the baking world. Totally delicious, but nothing ground breaking. I can’t replace the character Saint-Marcellin lends to the overall flavor of the dessert and when I don’t have it, I don’t make cheesecake. End of story.
Without it, people order the cheesecake and say, “Oh, wow, this is a really great cheesecake. I think this is the best cheesecake I’ve ever had!” All well and good, but whenever I put St. M in the mix, they take a bite and don’t say anything. Anything coherent, anyway. They make embarrassing noises, roll their eyes into their head, look around in confusion, as if in a dream, and otherwise loose their composure.
I’ll tell you right now, that’s the only kinda cheesecake I wanna be makin’. Saint-Marcellin or bust!
Most white ports don’t have a lot of value outside their role as a cocktail mixer and, as I’ve discovered, a poaching liquid. When combined with the honey and the gentle flavor of the apricots, it’s at its best.
By poaching the apricots separately with the white port, they retain their vibrant orange color and a have a cleaner, brighter flavor. Poached with the figs, the apricots tend to darken somewhat and take on a figgy earthiness.
The chewiness of the dried fruit against the creaminess of the cheesecake and the crunchiness of the graham crackers is amazing. The unique, seedy bite of dried figs has an addictive appeal all its own.
Many thanks to Sarah Jane Sanders for coming by Table 310 to take these photos. As I mentioned before, she’ll be contributing her lovely photography here from time to time, in addition to Rosco, BraveTart’s regular photographer.
I don’t always have cheesecake on the menu at work, or if you don’t have a chance to visit Table 310 to try it when I do, make it for yourself! Here are the recipes I use:
Do you like having a traditional cheese plate for dessert, or (like me) do you need something with just a little more, well, sugar to signal the end of a meal?
22 comments and counting
Apr 25, 2011 · 1:08 PM
I would totally be one of those people making incoherent noises of happiness. Sounds/looks incredible. Beautiful photos, too.
· Dawn (KitchenTravels) · http://www.kitchentravels.com
Apr 25, 2011 · 9:09 PM
I want to work where you work! Gorgeous photos!
Apr 25, 2011 · 10:00 PM
I am such a cheese fan… this is right up my alley!
· Elyse @The Cultural Dish · http://www.theculturaldish.blogspot.com
Apr 26, 2011 · 1:17 AM
I’m totally in for a cheese plate as dessert! Above all one like this.
· CaffeIna · http://caffeiina.blogspot.com
Apr 26, 2011 · 5:16 AM
You have no idea how much this fits perfectly into my life right now. I’m throwing a cheese-themed dinner party this weekend.. and I JUST posted a recipe on my site about grilled cheese sandwiches with jam inside of them. Hah! You’re awesome
· cathy · http://www.savorynotes.com
Apr 26, 2011 · 2:56 PM
Wonderful post. My hubby would be in cheese heaven with these treats.
· briarrose · http://flourdusted.blogspot.com/
Apr 26, 2011 · 5:33 PM
My mouth is watering. I need to go to the cheese store right now.
· Linds · http://americangirlsare.weebly.com
Apr 26, 2011 · 7:33 PM
@Dawn, haha, I am so all about inappropriate noises at the dinner table. Glad you’re liking the photos, I’m so happy to have Sarah on board.
@Daisy, I’m going to have it on the 310 menu this weekend, you know. If you need any…
@Liz, Sarah’s photography’s great, isn’t it?
@Uncle C, awww, thanks for stopping by the blog! I appreciate your comment, it means a lot. Love!
@Elyse @CaffeIna I’m the kind of person that sometimes has a hard time deciding between a cheese plate or dessert; the cheese plate is usually more of an adventure, and the dessert is usually more gratifying. So I’m trying to merge those two pluses into one dish.
@cathy grilled cheese and jam? Sounds awesome! I’ll have to swing by to check out your cheese/jam combos.
@briarrose sometimes I think guys seem to appreciate cheese plates more then women. I wonder if that’s really true…
@Linds happy shopping!
Apr 26, 2011 · 8:01 PM
Okay so I absolutely LOVE this dessert! It looks perfect with the graham crackers served next to it, and the dried figs complement the whole thing beautifully!
· Meghan · http://www.butrcreamblondi.com
Apr 27, 2011 · 2:34 PM
Port, graham crackers and French cheese. Parfait!
· Michelle · http://gourmandistan.com/
Apr 27, 2011 · 9:05 PM
Love your blog your photos are incredibly beautiful, glad to meet another kentucky food blogger!
· Kate@ahealthypassion · http://ahealthypassion.com
Apr 28, 2011 · 2:45 PM
@Meghan , thank you. I really love the unique texture, chewy and crunch, of dried figs. A totally under utilized ingredient, if you ask me.
@Michelle, Oh yeah! A trifecta of tasty.
@Kate, so good to meet you. Thanks for swinging by! I never knew how many other KY bloggers are out there, and now I’ve found so many. Cheers!
Apr 30, 2011 · 10:29 AM
Outstanding! One of my favorite things about dining at French restaurants is that a cheese plate is usually a dessert option and that is always what I get. There are so many flavors and textures. I can’t get enough. This is beautiful!
· Lori@FakeFoodFree · http://www.fakefoodfree.com
May 02, 2011 · 6:27 PM
Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’d be at the table making somewhat embarrassing noises, as well. This sounds absolutely awesome and I’m pretty sure I’ll be craving it now. =)
· Peggy · http://mybflikeitsoimbg.blogspot.com
May 02, 2011 · 8:48 PM
@Pearce77, I love Sarah’s work too!
@Lori, we’d be great friends in real life, I’m sure.
@Peggy, haha, nothing wrong with that.
Jul 06, 2011 · 5:41 PM
I had this other-worldly cheesecake the first time I dined at Table 310. It was the highlight of the night. Unlike any cheesecake I have ever had and the best cheesecake I have ever had. I was there again this past weekend and was sad to not see it on the dessert menu. If it is on the menu it will always be the star of my meal there. Thank you so much for enlightening me as to what cheesecake can really taste like.
Jul 07, 2011 · 3:50 PM
Brandi, thank you so much for searching out my blog to tell me that. I’m blown away. I rarely repeat desserts, I’m always blazing a new trail and playing with new things. But lots of people have complained about the lack of this dessert on the menu, so I know I must resurrect it soon. I’ll email you a heads up when I do. Thanks again for the kind words.
Oct 22, 2011 · 7:40 PM
@Jake, haha, so glad to oblige!!