Week One of Our Winter Cheese Plate Winners: The Cooked Cheese Plate | culture: the word on cheese
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Week One of Our Winter Cheese Plate Winners: The Cooked Cheese Plate

And so it begins: five weeks of our winning foodie bloggers, sharing their personal spins on our Winter 2012 Cheese Plate! Our inaugural guest post comes from pastry chef-turned cookbook author, Garrett McCord, of Vanilla Garlic. Check back next Wednesday for our second post in the series, from Katherine Hysmith -AKA- The Young Austinian.

The Cooked Cheese Plate

By Garrett McCord, of Vanilla Garlic
author of Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese.

I generally like to mix it up when I put together a cheese plate. Crackers are fine, honey is dandy, and if you’re feeling uninspired then by all means plonk a few pieces of dried fruit in a bowl and call it a day. I’ve done it myself when I’m in a pinch, so I won’t judge.

Still, I prefer to make a cheese plate that people will remember. Perhaps pair a crumbly hunk of Beemster X-O with a piece of salted goat’s milk caramel. Maybe drizzle lavender-infused butterscotch sauce over some Rogue River Blue. I’ve even seen a cheese plate where the cheeses were highlighted with teas. (Leonora and Chamomile for the win.)

Or, to be crazy, you can skip simply placing our cheese on a pedestal for worship and do something truly radical: cook with your cheeses.

I know, I know- cooking with a wedge of artisan cheese is anathema to our dairy religion. It is not part of The Whey, and I suspect one or two cheesemongers out there are ready to flog me over a post. Yet, I see cooking with artisan cheese as simply another way to appreciate it and experience new flavors and textures that one might never know existed otherwise. To prove my point, I took one of culture’s signature cheese plates and designed a menu from it.

For example, a Comte should be fudgy in texture with the taste of hazelnuts and brown butter. I’ve found that one of Comte’s true romances is roasted garlic. Mashed together and bound with a stick of soft butter and flecked with some chopped thyme you create a compound butter that’s heavenly when packed into a loaf of bread and baked. It’s a modern take on garlic-Parmesan bread that tastes of antiquity and adventures abroad.

Get the recipe here!

Not only did this baking process bring out the nutty flavors of the cheese, but it also opened up new tastes of rosemary, caramel, burnt hay, and toasted pecan. Comte transformed from Gentleman Cowboy to Marlboro Man.

A hefty piece of Cheshire is one of those things that doesn’t have to be cooked, but can always find place in a meal. I love it slipped between two slices of buttered rye bread with some fresh salami and tomato, or a few tissue-thin slivers layered on the surface of a soup filled with navy beans and Spanish chorizo. For this meal the Cheshire was tossed in a simple salad of kale and Zingerman’s spiced pecans.

The orange-y flavor of Cheshire compliments the bitter kale and meaty, sweet pecans. The dressing -a mix of Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, and a quality olive oil- brings it all together into one well-balanced bite.

Lastly, we had a big plate of mac and cheese because why not?

Bayley Hazen is Stilton-esque. I’ve heard some people describe this cheese as having the flavor of chocolate, but I don’t buy it. Anise, yes. Pecans, for sure.

When cooked, it creates a very dense, toothsome sauce with a bit of texture due to Bayley’s drier-than-usual paste. The ripples of blue mold scatter throughout the dish and become bitter, spicier, and a bit more facetious like a cantankerous grandparent. Decked with a breadcrumb crust composed of broken down bits of Miller’s Damsel oat crackers and a smidge of cheddar it’s a rustic mac that’ll warm you up right.

All of this was served with both red and white wines for those who had their preference. A simple pale ale would have also been nice.

Unlike a regular cheese plate, I ensured that my guests went home satiated and full. In addition, each had a better understanding and appreciation of the cheeses used and abandoned their fear of cooking with truly great cheeses.

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