Modern Gingham

Modern Gingham

Friday, March 20, 2015

Mike's Complete Advice for Building a Cheeseplate

Mike, cheese expert and co-owner at Mondo Market
When creating a cheese plate many factors have to run through your mind to make it magical.  One of the first things to think about is the number of people that will be enjoying it, another is the style of clientele and which cheeses will be suitable for them.  Not everybody likes all types of chees and thus you have to prepare to have a wide array of selections for them to choose from.

Most every cheese board that Mondo Market creates has 4 components: Cheese, Charcuterie (dry cured meats),  Accoutrements (crackers, nuts, olives), Garnish.  When starting the selection of the cheese each artist must think of texture, aroma, and appearance when designing the place.  For example, you wouldn’t want to select simply beige color cheeses that all have an alpine style nuttiness to them.  A great mantra to stand by is to select: something hard, something soft, something stinky, something blue.  This will cover the basic variety of cheese textures and appearances to allow for a wide spectrum of profiles to entice the customers’ pallet.

In addition, you want to do the same with the Charcuterie and the Accoutrements.   There are two primary classes of dry cured meats—Whole Muscle and Salami. Whole Muscle encompasses things like Lomo Embuchado (dry cured pork loin) and Hot Coppa (dry cured, spice rubbed pork shoulder).  Salami is self-descriptive.  You want to mix up both styles of meat for each plate, select a spicy Capacolla (whole muscle and cooked) along with Sweet Sopressata to balance out the texture and the heat level.  Of course you want to think about pairings too and ensure that the spiciness doesn’t over power the delicate nature of some cheeses.  Select a crunchy and salty nut, a smooth and spreadable jam or marmalade (such as Modern Gingham Preserves), and a softer, tangier olive for the Accoutrements.

Garnishes can vary between fresh herbs, micro-greens, spicy mustard smears, or pink peppercorns.  The choices are limitless so get created and think outside of the box!  Some plates don’t need a garnish at all as the beauty of the meat and cheese is enough to get the guests mouth-watering.
Cheese display at Mondo Market

Portion control is vital when it comes to cheese and salami trays.  If you over portion you are bound to have considerable excess (and picked through cheese plates aren’t the easiest to take home either as they tend to get quite messy during the course of service); but you also don’t want to run out of course either.  In the experience of the Mondo Market staff, we have found a great happy medium which is 1.5 ounces – 2 ounces of cheese/meat per person with a 75% lean towards the meat.  That’s 2 ounces total, not of each.  So let’s say the party is for 50 people, that’s 6.25 pounds of total product (50 x 2 ounces/ppl).  With 75% being designated for cheese, that leaves 4.69 pounds of Cheese and 1.56 pounds of Meat.  The reason for the difference in quantity is that a slice of meat, in general, weighs much less than a pickable (meaning easily grabbable) piece of cheese.  So even though the meat has so much less per pound, it resonates just as much on the plate as it presents very well and each slice is much less than an ounce.

I like to figure out a person’s taste by asking them a simple question:  How funky do you like it?  Do you like Blue?  Cheddar?  Goat?  Soft Ripened?  That will get you the basic answers you need to determine the cheese for them.  Then you can ask them their favorite cheese—if they say “sharp cheddar” or “Aged Gouda” you know you are working with the basics.  If they say “Bleu D’Auvergne” or “ Epoisses” you can expect an open chance to wow them with amazing and unique cheeses.

When designing the cheese selection you want to factor in a “menu mix.”  A margin mix is the average price per pound of each cheese/meat which allows you to get creative with some of the rarer products.  For example, you can have a Hot Coppa which is very inexpensive but also delicious and eye appealing, then toss on some Serrano Ham which is more expensive, but allows for the medium price to be average.  This way you can offer the rarities while keeping the price point affordable.  Some items this day and age that are sought after, and quite rare are the St. Marcellin (this soft cheese was recently banned in the USA and is very hard to find even though it used to be everywhere).  Another phenomenal cheese is the Bocconcino.  This tiny little bloomy goat cheese from France is acidic, slightly sharp, and has an amazing fresh milk taste to it that will blow your socks off. 

*some ingredients may vary based on availability! But the quality and amazingness will not change!*

So there you have it...Mike and Mondo's thoughts on designing, serving, and enjoying a cheeseboard.  Is it wrong that I feel sort of superior now that I read this?  You should feel superior too.  You have knowledge. Knowledge + cheese = Power.

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