It would be an understatement to say that Terrance Brennan loves cheese.
When asked to choose his favorite cheese, the chef and owner of Artisanal quipped, “That’s like asking who your favorite child is!”
In 2001, Brennan opened his homage to cheese, Artisanal, in midtown, and he hasn’t looked back since.
“I started with a cheese cart, went on to open the city’s first cheese cave and just kept pushing the envelope,” said Brennan. We asked him how to create the perfect cheese platter, complete with sides.
1. Uplands Pleasant Ridge: Wisconsin’s Mike Gingrich makes one of America’s most remarkable farmstead cheeses. It has a rich, nutty flavor and milky finish, evidence of the high-quality cow’s milk. Firm in consistency, this cheese can be paired with many wines, including merlot, albariño and zinfandel.
2. Humboldt Fog: This goat’s milk cheese, produced by Mary Keens at Cypress Grove Chevre in Mckinleyville, Calif., is sprinkled with vegetable ash. Its soft and moist texture and clean lemony flavor can be enjoyed with sauvignon blanc and muscat.
3. Monte Enebro: Handmade by renowned cheesemaker Rafael Baez and his daughter, Paloma, this goat’s milk cheese has a distinct appearance. As this soft cheese ages, it becomes denser and also acquires an intense and pungent flavor. Sauterne or Spanish desert wines can be paired with this cheese.
4. Epoisses: This strong-smelling cow’s milk cheese originated in the small town of Epoisses, Burgundy in the late 1700s. Washing it with brine and then with wine or brandy develops the Epoisse’s characteristic ruddy rind. Continued washing with Burgundy brandy, deepens the flavor and promises a silky paste. Pair Chardonnay with Epoisse.
5. Pecorino Toscano: This famous sheep’s milk cheese from Tuscany is sturdy, nutty and slightly salty. Pecorino’s pleasant flavor can be complemented with olives, Italian cured meats and Italian wines like Prosecco and Muscat.
6. Crater Lake Blue: This robust cow’s milk blue — not for the finicky cheese eater — hails from Oregon’s Rogue River Creamery. It’s firm but moist and creamy and pairs well with Claret, Syrah, Chardonnay, Port or beer.
For a more elaborate presentation, condiments such as fruits, nuts, quince paste, dried fig cakes, medjool dates, chutney or crackers can be used to accent the various cheese flavors.
Classic combinations include:
Quince paste and sheep’s milk cheeses, Asian pears and blue cheese, onion-raisin chutney and cheddar cheese, and grapes and Epoisse. The neutral taste of crackers and earthy flavor of dried fig cakes make them great accompaniments for all types of cheese.
Tips for creating your platter:
1. When selecting cheeses make sure they vary in color, texture, milk type, and flavor.
2. A cheese platter’s flavor profile should range from mildest to strongest, with the mildest placed at 6 or 12 o’clock on the platter (you’ll want to start with those). Eating the strongest cheese first masks the flavor of the milder cheeses.
3. Try and keep the temperature between 70 and 72 degrees to enhance the flavor of the cheese. When it is too cold, the cheese’s full flavor doesn’t come out.
4.Use separate cutlery for the various types of cheese. For instance, a spoon for soft cheese and a sharp chef’s knife for semi-soft to hard cheeses.
5. A rustic board, earthy marble or stone can be used as a platter with a full round cheese in the middle. Around it, arrange the remaining cheeses, all cut in different shapes, to add visual appeal.