Tips + Trends

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.

Gaylord National Cheese

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

In our June/July issue, Baltimore restaurateur Tony Foreman wrote a piece for ChesapeakeHome on grilling. As if that weren’t enough to make my mouth start to water, around the same time, I received my monthly e-newsletter from Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet with the headline: “Hot Off The Grill.” In this installment, Kalamazoo included several backyard barbecue recipes that looked so good, I went home and made them that weekend. Now that it’s Friday, I’m thinking about what I’ll be testing out tomorrow on the grill, and wanted to share two of the recipes from Kalamazoo that I tried. Talk about some crowd-pleasers…the aioli made me wonder how I’d used plain ol’ mayo for so long!


Heavenly Burgers
These burgers are so good, you won’t need condiments at the table. Ground round is joined by grilled Vidalia onions, fresh guacamole, Monterey jack cheese, a slice of tomato and grilled garlic buns for a perfect combination of flavors and textures.
Servings: 8


3 cloves garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
8 golden hamburger buns, split
Hickory-smoked or alder-smoked salt
8 patties ground round, 85% lean, 1/2-pound each, 1-inch thick
2 Vidalia onions
3 avocados
2 limes
Small handful cilantro leaves, chopped
8 slices Monterey jack cheese
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch to 3/8-inch thick

A couple of hours before cooking, crush the garlic cloves into about 1/2 cup of olive oil. Let sit at room temperature, stirring once or twice while the garlic infuses the oil.

Prepare the grill for direct cooking at 400°F to 500°F.
While the grill is heating, brush the garlic-infused olive oil onto the sliced sides of the hamburger buns and then sprinkle with salt.

Recess the centers of the ground round patties (see our tip on the perfect burger). Brush the patties on both sides with the remaining garlic-infused olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Slice the onions 3/4-inch-thick (see our tip on grilled onions) and sprinkle with salt.

Cut the avocados in half lengthwise, working around and not cutting through the pit. Remove the pit and scoop out the meat into a large bowl. Mash them coarsely. Stir in the juice of 1 to 2 limes, the cilantro and salt to taste. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap down into the simple guacamole to keep oxygen out.
Place the onion slices on the grill in a cooler area of the direct grilling zone. Turn after about 7 minutes. Add the burgers directly over the hottest part of the fire after about 3 minutes more. If you have special requests for temperature, start well-done burgers earlier and medium-rare burgers later. For medium burgers, cook, turning once, for about 12 to 15 minutes total. When you turn the burgers over, top each with a couple rings of grilled onion and then add a slice of cheese to melt over the top.

As the burgers near completion, add the buns to the grill, cut-side-down. Cook until lightly toasted without drying the buns out. Remove the buns from the grill and spread the simple guacamole onto the bottom half of each. Transfer the cooked burgers to the buns on top of the guacamole. Add a slice of tomato and the top bun to each and serve.

fries_aioli_300Grill-Roasted French Fries with Avocado Aioli
What goes better with burgers than French fries? How about grill-roasted fries with avocado aioli? An aioli is a garlicky mayonnaise. In this recipe, fresh avocado takes the place of raw eggs to deliver the same texture with a whole new flavor.

Servings: 8
8 large Yukon gold potatoes, cleaned, skin-on
Sea salt
Extra virgin olive oil
2 avocados, pitted and skinned
3 cloves garlic
About 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Prepare the grill for indirect cooking at 400°F.

While the grill is getting ready, slice the potatoes into 8 wedges each. Toss gently in a large bowl with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt.

While the grill is heating, or while the potatoes are cooking, prepare the Avocado Aioli. Coarsely mash the avocados in a bowl and then transfer to a food processor. Add 2 tablespoons of the lime juice, and a few pinches of salt. Run the food processor until smooth. Then, with the food processor running, drizzle in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil until the mixture takes on a mayonnaise-like texture. Test for taste and add more lime juice and salt as needed. Transfer to a bowl and store in the refrigerator with plastic wrap pressed tightly into the surface of the aioli.
Place the potato slices on the grill in the indirect cooking zone. Cook, turning once, for about 25 minutes. Remove from the grill, sprinkle with salt, and serve with the Avocado Aioli for dipping.

Note: The fries can be reheated later over direct heat to make timing easier.

Text provided by Russ Faulk, Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet. For more grilling recipes from Kalamazoo, go to