Lauren Matich 2015-09-01 02:18:48
An expert fromager dishes on the art of a well-curated cheese platter. Seasoned hosts know that planning a sophisticated gathering is all about considering the senses: Jazzy music sets the mood, inviting decor visually welcomes guests and a carefully crafted cheese plate piques the interest of discerning palates. Quick to dispel hard-and-fast categories that laypersons use to group cheese, Jason Truckenmiller, fromager for The Loft’s cheese gallery at Montage Laguna Beach, takes a different approach to assembling diverse and decadent platters for guests. The expert begins by including cheese made with the milk of three different animals: goat, sheep and cow. Then, he considers international styles, texture and the accompaniments he’ll use to complement each flavor and add diversity to the plate. He gives a template for a well-rounded arrangement: “Start with a triple-cream brie; a goat milk cheese; semisoft sheep [milk cheese]; a hard cheese, or possibly an alpine cheese like Gruyere; maybe a strong cheese, if you like it; and then [finish] up with a blue that really overpowers everything.” Adding thoughtful accouterments is another nice touch. At The Loft, plates are accompanied by fruit, Marcona almonds, honey and any of 20 homemade compotes. The same approach can be applied at home. Compotes balance the cheese flavors, but finding the right cheese-and-jam pairings can’t be boiled down to a simple formula. Rather, Truckenmiller explains, common pairings act as guidelines for more imaginative departures. “I’d probably have three or four different kinds of compotes: raspberries with Brie, strawberries with goat cheese,” he says. Then he ventures into the world of savory accompaniments. “I might do something that’s somewhat savory, like sherry-caramelized onions; they go really well with Gruyere,” he says. “It also goes with the hard aged cheddar style. Maybe [I’d pair] something with caramelized apples; that also goes great with cheddar.” Much the same way sommeliers pair wine and food, a geographic locale can be the unifying element.France’s Loire Valley is a prime growing area for flavorful strawberries and is one of the best regions for raising goats to produce cheese. A marriage between the two is only natural for the palate. Wine is another perfect partner for cheese. “Riesling can pair with a lot of soft cheese, but also the hard cheese and full-flavored cheeses,” Truckenmiller explains. “The mirror to riesling in the red world is pinot noir. Pinot noir is not as intense as cabernet, not as tannic as cabernet. It can meld with more different styles.”The go-to varietals for the expert’s template includes sparkling wine, riesling, pinot noir and a cabernet blend, which supports the flavors of sharp, hard cheeses. The best way to learn is firsthand, so hosts should prepare for an experimental sampling of all of the components that will appear on their platters. Overall, achieving the right mix is a creative endeavor, where the criteria for perfection are flexible and yield to personal preference. On the following page, Truckenmiller offers a few more tips for a restaurant-worthy cheese arrangement.
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