Cheese lovers, mark your calendars. June 4 is National Cheese Day in the United States, so it’s the ideal excuse for you to indulge in your obsession with feta, cheddar or mozzarella. Pay tribute by ordering a cheese foam bubble tea, or show your commitment by standing in a three hour queue for a Shake Shack cheeseburger.
We believe in going back to basics, and appreciating cheese in its raw form — that is, on a platter. A cheese platter, or charcuterie board, is the perfect dish to serve at any dinner party — it’s a visual spectacle and helps fill the tummies of the peckish, while they await the main course.
Here, Singapore’s top cheese and wine connoisseurs answer 10 most commonly asked questions on how to create the perfect cheese plate:
1. How many types of cheese should be on the platter?
The answer is simple: It’s really up to you. But if you need to put a number on it, the magic number is six, according to Regent Singapore’s Chef Luca Beccalli.
Be it a party of two, ten or twenty, at least six cheeses is just about right to offer a good variety. For more than 10 guests, you could go up to nine types of cheeses.
A well-balanced platter should have a mix of cheeses — hard/soft, strong/mild and varied in the constituent milks, such as cow, sheep, goat.
“The key is not to have an overwhelming selection, but to have a fair selection of each cheese type,” says Chef Luca, a senior sous chef at Basilico, which boosts a dedicated cheese room. “One thing to note is that the more cheese you serve on the platter, the more accompaniments, condiments and sides you have to prepare to cleanse your palate throughout the tasting.”
2. What accompaniments go well with cheese?
Cheese and crackers are a classic combo, but what other accompaniments go well with cheese? Take your pick from the sweet or savoury.
The Sweet: Fruits go beautifully with cheeses. An apple or apricot’s natural sweetness complements the creaminess of cheese.
You can choose fruits in any form — fresh, dried or mashed up as a jam. Try pairing green grapes with Taleggio, which is a mild flavoured cheese made from cow’s milk. The crunchy grapes complements Taleggio’s soft texture.
The Savoury: Just like how we love our ham and cheese in a sandwich, the same combo goes well on a platter. A popular pairing is prosciutto di Parma and parmigiano-reggiano, an Italian cheese hailed as the King of Parmesans. The saltiness of the cheese complements the soft, buttery ham slices.
If you’re craving for a stronger taste, go for aged Gouda and a chorizo. Prepare for an explosion of bold flavours in your mouth — Gouda’s smoky flavour plus the spiciness of the Spanish sausage will be heavenly.
3. What cheese to choose if I have young guests?
We’d gladly lap up anything edible infused with truffle — pasta, fries or even coffee. It’s the same when it comes to picking cheese for kids. You won’t go wrong with truffle brie.
“Adults regret letting the kids try it because the kids will only ask for truffle brie after tasting it,” says Morgane Foucaud, co-owner of La Petite Boutique, a French-style cheese store in Serangoon Gardens.
“Ours is a decadent combination of mascarpone and chopped black truffles. It’s a cheese which everyone likes. But you’d be surprised, sometimes kids can be more adventurous than adults.”
READ MORE: 12 Creative Recipes For A Fun Kids’ Party
4. Is there a way to savour the different types of cheeses?
There is an order to everything in the universe — even when it comes to eating cheese off a platter. Chef Luca says: “The cheese should be eaten in sequence, from mild, delicate and softer cheeses to the stronger, harder ones. Blues should be eaten last so they don’t overwhelm at the beginning.”
5. When should I serve the cheese platter?
Take the cheese platter out of the fridge about 20 to 30 minutes before consumption. “The cheese needs time to express itself. Cheese taste best when it is served at room temperature,” Morgane explains.
6. How should I cut the cheese?
Don’t chop the cheese into tiny pieces, please. Remember to keep the crust intact too.
“The golden rule is to never shave the cheese too thinly, or cut them into micro-size. Chunks and thick slices are fine. When the cheese is sliced, the crust must be kept because that is where all the infusions are stored. Retaining the crust is critical as that part lends the overall taste and aroma of the cheese,” says Chef Luca.
7. How should a cheese platter be presented?
The cheese platter is also meant to be a visual treat, says Morgane. “Before you savour the cheese in your mouth, you first eat the cheese with your eyes.” Add a dash of colours to the mix with nuts and fruits.
For that rustic look, Morgane likes plating her cheeses on a wooden board. But what’s most important is to pick a base which will give your cheese space.
“Each cheese should have its own space. Sometimes the cheese expands a little bit, and they might run a bit. You don’t want your blue to touch your brie. You don’t want the cheeses’ taste to interfere with one another,” she adds.
8. What’s the knife to cheese ratio?
Ideally, each cheese should have its own knife. The cheese’s distinct flavour and aroma may be affected if the same knife is used, explains Chef Luca.
Don’t go on a shopping spree just yet. “It is generally fine to use the same knife for harder cheeses because it doesn’t ‘stick’. Since soft cheeses are much more delicate, a separate knife for each soft cheese is highly encouraged,” he says.
9. How to pair wines with cheese?
When in doubt, pair foods and wines from the same region. “The world is miraculous and regional pairings can hardly deceive,” says Philippe Chin, Operations and Wine Manager of Drunken Farmer, a travelling pop-up bar by the Spa Esprit Group.
One such pairing is Chianti wine and Pecorino cheese, which is made out of sheep’s milk. A match made by nature, the wine and cheese are from Tuscany, Italy. The flavours complement because the wine’s grapes are grown in the same terroir as the sheep is reared in.
From France, you can try these pairings — Comté cheese and wines from the Jura Region. Or Crottin de Chavignol and wine from the Sancerre region.
10. Which wines should I absolutely avoid?
Say no to pairing cheese with red full bodied wines, says Philippe.
“More often than not they react badly with the acidity of cheese. Cheese will obliterate the wines and the flavours will go against each other, enhancing alcohol and drying out your mouth, a feeling we have all too often experienced when pairing a brie or camembert with a tanic Bordeaux or big red.”
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Text: Gwen Ng