Designing Your Holiday Cheese Plate
Local cheese experts share a new take on the “holy trinity” of entertainment
Cheese, wine, and bread are a classic combination for any type of get-together, especially during the holidays. With the growth in artisanal cheese-making, especially in the United States, the cheese plate has evolved. Complemented with fresh-baked artisanal breads and charcuterie, specialty foods and fresh fruits, local craft beers and ciders, and wines from around the globe, you can create unique flavor profiles to wow your guests and elevate your palate. Here’s a new take on the “holy trinity” of entertainment, from appetizer to party platter to dessert, with help from Vince Maniaci and Libby Shepard of The Cheese Iron in Scarborough, Maine, and Elizabeth Mulholland of Valley View Farm in Topsfield, Massachusetts.
Vince Maniaci’s Advice: Start with bubbly. The sugars and bubbles will activate and stimulate your palate. Cheese before a meal is perfect, as long as the cheeses don’t shut down your palate and ruin the meal to come. You don’t want all the cheeses screaming for attention, so include more nuanced choices along with assertive options to avoid sensory overload.
Saint Angel. A classic triple-creme cow’s milk cheese from the Cotes du Rhone region of France. A rich, creamy and buttery cheese encased in an edible, thin rind. Mild in flavor with a hint of tanginess, this luxurious cheese is wonderful served with a dollop of red fruit preserve such as quince/honey/rosemary jam and paired with sparkling wine such as Rive della Chiesa Prosecco from Italy. Round out the plate with warm bread, green apple, and raspberry preserves.
Bent River Camembert. A soft, artisan Camembert-style cheese from Alemar Cheese Co., Mankato, Minnesota, is made from the milk of cows who are 100 percent grass fed. It has rich, clean, buttery flavors with a hint of tanginess, grassiness, and mushrooms. A bloomy white rind surrounds a creamy, soft interior. Big reds will overpower this cheese so serve with a low tannin, fruity wine such as a Gamay blend like Mary Taylor Valencay from France’s Loire Valley. Serve with honey and nuts without skins.
Eligo. A cave-aged cheese from The Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, Vermont, this washed rind, cow and goat milk cheese has an earthy, yeasty, toasted nut, and barnyard/goat aroma. On the palate, it’s complex with a fresh creamy taste and peppery spice notes. Try pairing with a medium-dry white like Domaine Weinbach Riesling from Alsace, France. Serve with cornichons, toasted almonds, mild green olives and rustic bread.
Valley View Skillet Appetizer Recipe
Elizabeth Mulholland of Valley View Farm supplied this recipe, which features her farm’s Chèvre (plain and herb blend) and New Meadows Camembert. Fresh, spreadable and creamy, the tangy Chèvre lends itself perfectly to this unique hot appetizer dish created at her son’s Boy Scout camp to entice the dads to “up” the quality of their cookouts. The Camembert, a soft-ripened goat cheese with a white velvety exterior and creamy interior, has a rich, buttery, nutty, mushroom flavor and truly elevates this dish. While the original concoction was cooked over a campfire’s hot coals, an ordinary oven and a cast iron skillet will get the job done with great results. The presentation is spectacular and sure to be a crowd pleaser.
Place the Camembert in the middle of a 9-inch cast iron skillet. Arrange 4-ounce logs of Chèvre and 4-ounce wedges of smoked salmon in a pinwheel design. Fill in the rest of the pinwheel with capers, roasted red peppers, cherry peppers, roasted garlic, artichokes, black olives and carmelized onions. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the entire dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes until the cheese is soft and gooey. Serve with a crusty baguette and/or crackers and dip in!
Elizabeth’s Advice: The possibilities for accompaniments are limitless and include salamis, prosciutto, olive tapenades, sweet and savory jams, honey, maple syrup and more. You can also select other flavored varieties of the Valley View Chèvre such as cracked black pepper, roasted garlic, chive and chipotle pepper, and dill (a great choice with the salmon).
Bonus Advice: Camembert drizzled with maple syrup is a real New England treat!
Libby Shepard’s Advice: Serve this cheese platter and people will ooh and aah. The accompaniments – a variety of meats (salami, copa), fruits, baguettes, specialty crackers (tarallis and sweet olive oil tortas), savory and sweet jams and jellies, preserves, tapenades, nuts, cornichons, peppadews, roasted tomatoes, chutneys, honey, maple syrup, dried (figs, apricots, cherries) and fresh fruit – are important, for looks and for taste. Visually, it is best to use odd numbers (three or five, no more) when arranging cheeses. Mix your milks (goat, cow, sheep) and mix your textures. Be selective. You can’t enjoy the subtlety of flavors if you have too many.
Fleur Verte. This fresh goat’s milk cheese from the Perigord region of France is rolled in herbs de Provence, which adds herbaceous notes and makes a gorgeous presentation. Pair with Sauvignon Blanc or champagne.
Campo del Montalban. A mixed milk (cow, goat, sheep) Manchego-style firm to semi-firm cheese from La Mancha, Spain. With its granular texture and tangy, nutty flavor, this is a guaranteed crowd pleaser and a great party cheese. Pair with medium bodied red wine such as a classic Rioja, or with sherry.
Beemster XO. A 26-month aged Dutch hard cow’s milk cheese, this has robust flavor with notes of butterscotch, toasted pecan, and whiskey. Its crunchy, mouthwatering crystals are a lovely surprise on the palate, and the deep ochre color brings a party platter to life. Pair with dark beer.
Topsfield Tuffet. Aged at least six months, this cheese from Valley View Farm presents a cheddar-like flavor with smooth, sharp, sweet and nutty notes. Besides a great addition to a party platter with hot pepper jelly, this is amazing on its own or sliced and melted on a burger. Pair with a pale ale, medium cider, and Pinot Noir or Chardonnay.
Pingree Hill Tomme. Aged a minimum of three months, this Valley View Farm goat’s milk cheese is firm, nutty, and smooth on the tongue with butterscotch hints and a long finish. Primarily made in winter and spring, the Nubian goat milk’s high butterfat makes this a smoother version of sheep milk’s Pyrenees-style cheeses. It also works on a dessert plate paired with Port, full-bodied Malbec or a Dark & Stormy rum cocktail.
Mimolette. A firm cow’s milk cheese from the Nord Pas-de-Calais region of France. This one-year-old “cheese candy” adds edge to a dessert plate. Intense umami flavor and a toothsome texture create a savory, dense and satisfying bite. Pair with Vermont’s Eden Ice Cider, an almost syrupy sweet beverage with a touch of tartness.
Arethusa Blue. Blue is a traditional dessert cheese, and this one from Arethusa Farm in Litchfield, Connecticut, earned first place in its category (blue-veined cheeses) at the 2018 World Cheese Championships. Stilton-inspired, rustic, chocolaty, toasty, sweet with some pleasant saltiness, its multidimensional flavors pair well with fortified wines like Port. It’s like a rich blue cheese ice cream.
New Year’s Bonus: The Cheese Iron’s Brie de la Maison, with fresh cream and truffle stuffing. Pair with Champagne and celebrate!