Ask the Cheesemonger
Q:I’m going on a weeklong camping trip this summer and would like to take along some good cheese that does not require refrigeration. Got any recommendations?
A: Nothing is quite as lovely as dining al fresco, except of course dining al fresco underneath a sea of stars out in the wilderness. There are a few things to consider when selecting some provisional cheeses to accompany you on this getaway. You want cheeses that do not require refrigeration; are versatile enough to be reinvented over the course of a few days in several dishes; and are aged, but not too much so, since a really hard-aged cheese would be difficult to cut. (Let’s face it: sometimes we misplace our 42-in-1 limited-edition Swiss Army knife and are left only with a used spork from KFC.) Some good cheeses that fit these criteria are a good nutty alpine style, such as a chunk of one-year-old Gruyère or a slab of Hoch Ybrig; a clothbound cheddar such as Montgomery’s or Cabot; and an aged Italian goat such as Caprotto or Pantaleo. The alpines are perfect to grate over that frying duck egg you just foraged from a mallard’s nest next to the creek. The cheddar is excellent sliced with a fresh apple, wrapped in Canadian bacon (because who goes camping without some sort of cured pork product?), and fried up in a good ol’ cast-iron skillet. And the aged Italian goat cheese is fantastic shaved over the grilled trout you caught grizzly-style in the babbling brook. Of course, for the lazy naturalist, all of these cheeses are ideal for just plain nibbling.
Q:Is it best to serve a cheese course before the meal, after the entrée, or at the end of the meal?
A: I am often asked when, during the course of a meal, is the “right time” for the cheese plate. Well, my friends, I ask you, when is the wrong time? Still, many cheese experts have different beliefs—rules even—as to when the cheese should be presented; wars have been fought over this very topic. But I am here to tell you that there is no right time. (Gasp! A hush settles over the crowd.) Yes, you heard it here first. There are, however, some commonsense guidelines. When serving a large dinner, such as a Sunday roast of a whole venison leg with Yorkshire pudding and duck-fat-fried potatoes, for example, I like to serve the cheese course before the meal with a few cocktails. Get those digestive enzymes flowing; lubricate the old intestinal tract for the feast. If I am planning some light summery fare, such as a big kitchen-sink salad with lots of yummy pickled things, I like to plate the cheese alongside the entrée with a few bottles of white. This way the cheese is featured as a large accoutrement to the salad, or vice versa. For a simple pasta meal, I always prefer to have the cheese before the dessert course, as sort of a palate cleanser that sets up a nice break between savory and sweet.
Charlotte Kamin is part-owner of the Bedford Cheese Shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. When she’s not filling the store with tasty treats and mongering, she’s spending way too much time thinking about food.
Photo: Rachel Barrett