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The Well-Constructed Cheese Plate

August 4, 2009

Recently I stumbled upon the menu of a charming little restaurant that I loved in Pacific Grove, where Mrs. Fussy and I used to eat before we had children.

We were on a weekend getaway from Berkeley, and staying in a much too precious bed and breakfast.  The rooms were filled with antique hatboxes and more teddy bears than any self-respecting adult should tolerate.  I almost burned the place to the ground, but I swear it was an accident.

Anyhow, we were hungry, and Pacific Grove isn’t a very large town.  So we walked across the street and read the posted menu at the Red House Café (note: thanks to the magic of the internet, the link is to an old menu, similar to the one we saw that evening).

We decided to eat here solely on the strength of their cheese plate, and we returned as many times as possible over the course of the weekend.
The cheese plate at the Red House Café really does everything right.  And it’s not easy to pull off.  Here are the fussy rules for making a good cheese plate.

Rule One: There should be at least three cheeses but no more than five.
Rule Two: The milk of every major dairy animal should be present.
Rule Three: There will be blue cheese, and cheeses of different intensities.
Rule Four: A firm, a semi-firm and a soft cheese must be included.
Rule Five: There should be variety in the country of origin as well.

And here were the Red House Café’s cheese choices:
Fromager d’Affinois (cow | delicate | soft | France)
Montgomery’s Cheddar (cow | strong | firm | England)
Picón Peñazul (cow | blue | semi-firm | Spain)
Chèvre d’Or (goat | delicate | semi-firm | France)
Manchego (sheep | nutty | firm | Spain)

The list almost reads like top-sellers from the Pasta Shop at Market Hall.

Fromager d’Affinois is a cream-added brie that was always the crowd favorite when I used to bring cheese into the office.  It may not be the fullest flavored of the bries but it is delicious and very accessible.

Montgomery’s Cheddar is one of the traditional English cloth wrapped cheddars from Somerset County.  For me, it’s either Montgomery’s or Keen’s Farm.  But it depends on the individual wheels.  Cheese is tricky that way.

Peñazul is a Spanish leaf wrapped blue cheese that was really my first true love.  And it is one of the things that got me this deep into food, in the first place.  You can read more about it here.

Chèvre d’Or
is a great aged goat cheese.  It does not have a lot of funk, but it has a unique rich density and almost a chewyness underneath its white moldy rind.  How can you not love a French cheese called Goat of Gold?

Honestly, the Manchego was the weak spot on the list.  But it’s such a popular cheese it is hard to hold it against anyone.  There are some much more interesting aged sheep milk’s cheeses to anchor down this part of the plate.

And that is five.  They maxed it out.  But every cheese serves a purpose.  And it would be difficult to get rid of any of the cheeses selected without compromising the integrity of the plate as a whole.  Very well done.

Now this is not to say that you cannot take liberties with a cheese plate.  It might be fun to have a plate composed entirely of sheep’s milk cheeses, or one entirely with cheeses from New York.  But even if you break one or two rules for the sake of novelty, a strict adherence to the remaining rules is strongly advised.  Still, you should know how to make a proper cheese plate.  Although should you try it, you may find it is harder than you imagine.

The only sad postscript is that when looking at the dinner menu on the current version of the Red House Café, the cheese plate is notably absent and replaced with a Camembert with Port Wine Sauce

They can take away my cheese plate, but they cannot take away my memories.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. renee permalink
    August 4, 2009 4:41 pm

    My pops is coming in this weekend and I am totally going to do a cheese plate — something quick and easy that doesn’t take too much time. Plus it will force me to stop serving just Ossau Iraty.

    Do you have any advice on beginning to to appreciate blue cheese? It still makes me gag.

  2. August 4, 2009 9:27 pm

    I’m starting to like blue cheese (read, I’ve found it more tolerable every year, lol). I never remember what I get, but I like going to the cheese section of the co-op and asking for the mildest, and getting just a wee bit of it. I think they also had a gorgonzola and marscapone which was also really good. It’s the layered one… there’s also a pesto one that is insanely delicious, but I think they’ve upped the price so I’ve been eyeing it from afar.

    Ok, I am rambling, but yah. Cheese good. Slap it on a plate and I’ll eat it. I always forget about how quickly cheese can fill you, and how a cheese plate really doesn’t need 1/2 lb of each cheese. Heck, for the pungent ones I just need a sliver otherwise I over do it.

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