Carolyn Stromberg, the DC region’s only full-time Maitre d’Fromage (expert on the complexities of fine cheese, its flavors, textures, heritages, aging processes, and wine mates) recently offered ChesapeakeHome some suggestions for summer cheese plates. A sucker for great cheese (and wine), I couldn’t resist sharing her ideas. Of course if you don’t want to go through the trouble of tracking down all of the different varieties she recommends, you can visit her at the Old Hickory Steakhouse at Gaylord National Resort and enjoy her selections—an ever-changing variety of more than two dozen artisanal cheeses, painstakingly nurtured in the restaurant’s own cheese cave.
Here are Carolyn’s tips for assembling the perfect summer cheese plate:
- If you plan to serve wine with your cheese, you should select the wine first, then the cheeses. For summer, lighter wines are de rigeur: Sauvignon blanc or a sparkling wine are perfect. For example, a rich and creamy triple-crème like Brillat-Savarin will pair perfectly with a light and sparkly dry champagne. Or, try pairing one wine with five cheeses, or five wines and five cheeses.
- Goat and young sheep milk cheeses are at their peak in the summer. Select a soft goat cheese such as Valençay from the Loire Valley, which has an ashed rind; a young goat’s milk cheese; or a blend of goat, sheep and cow milk like La Tur.
- A bleu cheese can also be a great choice, as some bleus lean toward flavors that are bright, clean and citrusy. One of my favorites is Black River Blue from Wisconsin.
- Aged cheeses are refreshing in summertime as well. Try Garrotxa, from the Basque region of Spain. An aged goat’s milk cheese, its flavor is mellow, nutty and approachable. Another is Pecorino Ginepro, an aged sheep’s milk cheese from Italy with bright, tangy flavors that is soaked in crushed juniper berries and balsamic vinegar.
General tips Carolyn suggests for buying and serving cheese (no matter what the season):
- Ask the cheesemonger at your cheese shop, farmer’s market, or web vendor for their personal recommendations. Be sure to sample first if you can, and always eat what you like!
- Try a themed cheese plate. For example, you can select five types of goat cheese; samplings from different regions of France; or nouveau artisanal offerings of creative domestic cheeses rubbed with spices or herbs, such as coffee or lavender.
- Serve your soft cheese selections with a plain baguette or wafer-thin plain crackers. Fruit (green apples, grapes, cherries, or plums) and nuts (Spanish marcona almonds, pecans or candied walnuts) are excellent accompaniments as well.
- If serving a rustic, informal cheese board from which guests serve themselves, each cheese should be served with its own knife to avoid mixing the flavors. If presenting a more traditional, formal cheese plate to each guest, place the mildest cheese at the six o’clock position (closest to the bottom center) on the serving plate. Moving clockwise, the cheeses should progress from mildest to strongest.
- Don’t forget to give the cheese time to come to room temperature before serving. Soft cheeses should be removed from the refrigerator half an hour before serving; hard cheeses an hour.
For more information about Carolyn Stromberg, the Old Hickory Steakhouse, or the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, visit gaylordnational.com