Sunday, May 10, 2015

How to make a cheese plate impressive but accessible appetizer?

Cheese is the best thing that has ever or will ever happen to us. Better than boys, professional successes, our cats, or summer lake house weekends. And a cheese plate is the perfect low-effort, make in advance, impressive-but-accessible appetizer we all need to look like dinner party heros.
How to make a cheese plate impressive-but-accessible appetizer?

A lot of cheese plates come in threesomes– the classic trio is something runny, something firm, and something funky (like a blue)– but we think there’s magic in sticking with just one perfect piece of queso. It helps you manage your budget and gives you a chance to celebrate a single, perfect cheese. You get to know its nuances and can really customize a few thoughtful accessories (like crackers and spreads) to bring out its best qualities. But, being myopically-minded means you only get one shot for cheese perfection– and there’s no way to hide a lackluster selection. You have to put your best fromage forward, and that means flirting with your cheesemonger.
The ladies and germs who run you local cheese counter know what’s up. It is literally their job. Be nice. Ask questions. Listen. Let them help– and let them give you samples. If they don’t give any, ask (nicely), and then have a conversation. Don’t be bashful about what you think– or worry about sounding like a newb for not being stoked to try the casu marzu. If you don’t like something, say so, that way they can give you better guidance on the next bite. And if what you do like is out of your price range, absolutely no shame in backing away– or grabbing the $6 brick of crowd-pleasing sharp cheddar.

If you aren’t lucky enough to live near a store that has a cheese counter and someone running it: don’t be too sad. You can totally pick out cheese on your own. You are a adult. Trust your gut (and your tastes). Go with what you love– and if you’re really struggling, Kerrygold’s skellig is an affordable, readily available dreamboat.
After you’ve found one super dope cheese, start thinking about what you want to serve with it. Eat a nibble and think about what’s happening in your mouth– how does it feel? what does it taste like? what would go well with it?
How to make a cheese plate impressive-but-accessible appetizer?
There is no wrong answer… but, like MC Skat Kat said: Opposites Attract. Or, more accurately, opposite flavors and textures bring balance.
If your cheese is really savory, pair something sweet. Rich and creamy? Go tart. Nutty loves fruity (and vice versa). Hard cheeses benefit most from drizzles but runny ones need something. well. less runny. Like a spread. Classic combos like spiced nuts and apple slices are great– but there’s no limit to what you can pair. Go fucking nuts.
For our cheese plate, we found a camembert from a dope Michigan creamery. It was gooey and oozy, with a perfect, buttery center, and it tasted like a million morel mushrooms soaked in cream. The cheese was so runny that we needed a crunchy vehicle to get it in our face. Crackers had to happen, and we went herby to enhance the sweet, grassy flavors you could just barely pick up from the milk. The morel-ish-ness reminded us of our other favorite spring delicacy: rhubarb. So we whipped up sweetly tart rhubarb mostarda. A little sugar and brightness to power through all that butterfat.
Two final pieces of logistics: Portions and Storage.
When building your plate, serving size counts. Plan on about 2 ounces of cheese per person. Even if one or two of the people in your group don’t eat cheese (monsters), cheese leftovers are rarely a thing. And, if they are, it’s easy to store in the fridge.
To store your cheese-overs for a rainy day: pitch the plastic wrap they came in and protect them with layer of parchment or waxed paper. This lets the cheese breathe and prevents moisture from collecting on its surface and giving you sad, moldy, wet patches. Stash the papered cheese in an empty fridge drawer / stick it in an almost-sealed plastic bag with plenty of air in it to keep it from going crusty. Properly stored, cheese will last in your fridge a few days or longer.
How to make a cheese plate impressive-but-accessible appetizer?

Peppery Herb Crackers
  • 3 cups All-Purpose Flour, plus more for your countertop
  • 1 tbsp Sugar– it doesn’t make the crackers sweet, but it does help promote browning and give you a crispier texture
  • 2 tsp Salt, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1 tsp Black Pepper, plus more for sprinkling
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped Herbs– we went with a blend of Thyme and Rosemary but anything green and fragrant would be delightful
  • ¼ cup Olive Oil, plus another 2 tbsp for brushing on the crackers
  • 1 cup warm Water

Preheat your oven to 450°.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Make a little well in the center and pour in the ¼ cup olive oil and warm water. Stir until a smooth dough barely forms. Turn the dough out onto a well floured counter and roll into a very, very paper thin sheet. Like. Go as thin as you think is good and roll it half that thick. If you’re having trouble, or if it keeps shrinking up on you, let the dough rest in the fridge for 10-20 minutes.
Once rolled out, brush with the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with a little extra salt and black pepper. Cut (with a pizza cutter or, like, a knife) into squares, rectangles, whatever, and transfer to a lined baking sheet. 

Bake until lightly browned and decidedly crispy, about 20 minutes. These crackers lack the preservatives that keep commercial ones crispy forever. They’ll keep for a day or two in a sealed zip-top bag, but, if yours go sad, just pop them back in the oven for 5-10 minutes until they get their snap back.

How to make a cheese plate impressive-but-accessible appetizer?

Rhubarb Mostarda

(mostarda is like a fancy mustardy jam. it sounds fucked up but is perfectly piquant and sweet-savory. put it on cheese, obvs, but also give it a try on grilled and roasted meats)
  • 3 tbsp dried Mustard Seeds
  • 1 tbsp Mustard Powder
  • ½  cup not-too-sweet Booze– dry champagne or white wine are great, but, like, so is some PBR
  • ½ tsp Black Pepper
  • 1 ½ cups Sugar
  • 1 cup Champagne Vinegar
  • ½ cup Orange Juice
  • 2 cups chopped Rhubarb– fresh is best, but frozen works, too

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl or jar and park it in the fridge for at least 4 hours (or, like, over night). This is going to hydrate the mustard seeds so you don’t break a dang tooth when you dig in.

When the four hours are up, transfer the goods into a large saucepan and simmer over low heat until the mixture thickens. This will take longer than you think– but depends on how watery your rhubarb was. It usually takes ours about an hour and a half. It could take up to two.
While you can let things roll pretty much on their own at the beginning, as the mixture thickens, take special care to not let it burn. This is basically a pan of sugar. Sugar goes from caramely and nice to crispy and acrid in the blink of an eye. 
Once the mostarda is thick and jammy, let it cool and then put it on fucking everything. It’ll keep in the fridge for about a week, if it lasts that long.

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