By Serena Tang, Local Roots NYC cheese sage
Cheese is popular. Cheese is fun. Cheese is delicious. But if you don’t live in Europe and don’t work with cheese, you’re probably daunted by the amount, variety, and hoity-toityness of the cheese world.
But don’t let it stop you! The perfect cheeseboard comes with a lot of personal preferences and trial and error but it’s truly a task of love because cheese is a lovely way to “try, try, and try again”.
To me, cheese is more than a showpiece at a dinner party or an obligatory contribution at a picnic; it’s a wonderful story that directly translates a region’s culture and history in one delicious bite.
For example, tapas are super in right now – which means manchego is “super in”. If you haven’t heard of it before, manchego is a delicious sheeps milk cheese that heralds from the region of La Mancha from Spain. Its tasting notes, to me, are sharp flavors with a slight gamey-ness to match the milk of origin. You can always recognize a manchego by its rind’s arrow-like patterns. Past that, manchego is a cheese that only comes from the sheep of La Mancha and that pattern is made from woven grass found on the plains of La Mancha called esparto. La Mancha was originally called La Mansha by the Moors and its rocky and arid climate is only bearable for sheep, which is why, Manchego is always a sheep’s milk cheese.
American made artisanal cheeses that copy European styles have stories too – and it’s worthwhile to listen to them.
Take Local Roots NYC’s own partner creamery, Chaseholm Creamery (above) for example. Their creamery is a multi-generational farm that started in the 1930s, their cows are grass-fed, and their milk is made into alpine style gruyeres and soft washed-rind camemberts. Their cheese tells a story of a farm that takes care of its stock, that’s learning from experience, and that values the extra steps to high quality and sustainable goods.
So if you’re daunted or dulled by cheeseboards – think of the history, the care, and the stories behind cheese! From there, make a theme and learn about the cheeses you want to present.
Themes help focus a cheeseboard, but variety helps it pop. So if we were going with a theme of local cheeses, for example, we’d want to bring approximately 3-4 cheese of varying types. I like to do varieties of milks, age, and type.
- The type of milk is pretty straightforward – cow or sheep, usually.
- The type of cheese refers to the what’s sometimes known as “style” – washed rind, alpine style, or soft, for example.
- The time it has been aged tells us a lot – this usually translates to the hardness of the cheese, hard, soft etc.
Let’s start our cheeseboard at the CSA, where we pick up camembert from Chaseholem Farm. Camembert, which is a type of Brie cheese, is a young cheese (this one is aged 3-6 weeks), made with cow milk. It’s soft, with a bloomy rind and a creamy, buttery taste.
With the soft-ripened covered, my next choice would be something hard or aged. I could stick with a cow for this, such as the Pawlet Italian style toma, aged 6 months, from Consider Bardwell Farm (another CSA cheese from Local Roots NYC). You can find this one at most NYC Greenmarkets.
And my third choice for the cheeseboard would probably be a goat or sheeps’ milk cheese, something like a Manchego. Since there aren’t many manchegos made in NY, we’ll go with Danby, a raw goat milk cheese from Danby, VT. This cheese, aged 6 months, has a sharp taste to contrast the creamy Camembert and nutty Pawlet.
So feel free to explore, ask someone at a cheese counter, or sit down and do some research! And like I said, cheese is a lovely thing to try, try, and try again. Preferably with friends, wine, or Netflix. Enjoy!