Photographed by Nick Surette; Styled by Madison Trapkin
King Solomon served golden bowls of labneh. Marie Antoinette indulged in sultry wedges of Brie. The last Russian tsar snacked on dainty cheese toasts. For all its historic stardom, cheese had decidedly humble origins as a peasant food—much like pâté and wine, cheese began life as a solution to food spoilage. How it came to be an appetizer of the rich and powerful speaks to the very nature of the beast: cheese, no matter how simple, just feels like a luxury.“I think a lot of people view cheese as something that’s out of reach, or that’s difficult to afford because a lot of the best cheeses are very expensive,” says Erika Kubick, founder of cheese advocacy outfit Cheese Sex Death and the Cheese Preacher of Chicago. Kubick favors small-batch, handmade cheeses, which she feels give a special sensory insight into the cheesemaking process. “[Artisan cheeses] really represent that relationship between the human hand, the animal, nature, bacteria, flora, [and] fauna,” she says. “Well-crafted cheeses are the most beautiful foods in existence.” It’s true that some of the world’s best cheeses fetch premium prices, but we promise they’re worth it. Kubick’s tip: Build your board with aesthetics top-of-mind. “You always eat with your eyes first,” she says. “That’s the reason I have a following, because I’ve shown off how beautiful cheese can be.” Though many cheeses fall into the shades-of-beige category, accompaniments are where your masterpiece can really shine—think vivid fruits, golden honeys, striking spreads—turning your cheese plate into a veritable treasure trove. Kubick hands us the keys to her queendom with these decadent pairings.
Origin: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Milk: Pasteurized Cow’s Milk
“The crunchiest queen in all the land! She tastes like toffee and pecans with the smacky texture of nut butter,” says Kubick. Not that it needs a partner in crime, but juicy candied cashews studded with giant chunks of black lava salt (“A little bit goth!”) make a formidable match for this two-year aged Gouda. “I always love an aged cheese with any sort of toasted or candied nut, because aged cheese will always have a slightly toasted nut quality, especially ones that are this far along,” Kubick says.
Origin: Greenville, Indiana
Milk: Pasteurized Goat’s Milk
Modeled after a traditional Provençal cheese, O’Banon has a flavor profile that Kubick says, “blossoms on your tongue with notes of fresh forest and a sweet tea finish.” Swathed in bourbon-soaked chestnut leaves and wrapped up like a dainty sachet, this one’s devilishly easy to eat in one sitting. Topped with glistening Luxardo cherries on a buttery charcoal crisp, who even needs dessert?
Origin: Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, France
Milk: Raw Sheep’s Milk
A supporting role no more, Penicillium roqueforti takes center stage in this small-batch, artisan Roquefort. The mold is propagated on loaves of rye bread, then inoculated into the cheese’s buttery paste, where it blasts cannon holes filled with emerald green fur. “It’s extremely romantic, a beautiful cheese,”says Kubick, who perceives it to be a little less “bitey” than other more classic Roqueforts. This is one cheese that doesn’t require a brassy accompaniment, but instead a lightly floral honey will tease out the flowery notes inherent in the sheep’s milk.
Origin: Isigny-sur-Mer, France
Milk: Pasteurized Cow’s Milk
+ SALTED PISTACHIOS
Fiery orange Mimolette turns heads wherever it goes. Its pumpkin-hued paste gets its color from annatto, a natural food coloring derived from the seed of the achiote tree. Mimolette is France’s answer to Dutch Gouda, following a similar aging regimen. And as any fan of aged cheese knows, the crystals are where it’s at. “When you get the aged, crunchy [cheeses], the ones that have the crystalline structure, and that really craggy-looking rind,” says Kubick, “that’s the show-stopper.” She recommends contrasting the tangy, toasty, caramelized profile of a two-year aged Mimolette with boozy blackberry jam and salty pistachios.