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Just a few years ago, serving a cheese platter to yacht guests was considered passé. Too easy, too boring, too simple. Other items stole our creative attention and thus center stage.
But since artisan cheese makers have become so popular, a chef can take usually find a great cheese and make it the star of the evening.
The key to choosing the best cheese is to trust the old taste buds. But don’t forget to think down the road an hour or two. Simple cheddar or goat cheese add a great dimension to the starter salad, but how will its flavor pair with dinner? Dessert? The owner’s favorite wine?
Think, too, what will be served alongside the cheese. Some great options include all sorts of crackers, olives, fruit, quince paste, and honeycomb to really savory items such as poached eggs, chicken liver, duck or pork pate, or even olive pate.
When selecting hard cheeses, make sure it is firm to the touch, has no mold and has an aroma that is consistent with the type of cheese. A cheddar will crumble easily, and its color should be consistent. Ask for a sample. Most cheese shops want their customers to try the cheese. If the store won’t offer a sample, it’s best to shop elsewhere.
Soft, ripened cheeses all vary in taste, degrees of softness and ripeness. White mold cheese should be a milky, creamy white, not brown.
One of my favorite cheeses is the soft French cheese Epoisses, a ripened rind-washed cheese that has a pungent smell and taste. Such cheeses should have a bulging center that is soft, and a melt-in-the-mouth consistency.
Leave this sort of cheese out at room temperature for an hour before serving. If it melts and looks soft on the plate, then you know it is a ripened cheese served during its maturity. There is nothing more disappointing than buying a cheese that is not ripened. I recommend serving most cheeses at room temperature to experience their true taste.
The enjoyment of cheese is a matter of personal preference. When making a cheese platter, I like to keep similar cheeses together. Mixing different types of cheeses together is risky. One could influence the taste of another if the two do not compliment each other. We would not want a cheddar next to a blue cheese and end up eating both in one mouthful.
Instead, make a small platter of various cheddars, and another platter of similar blues. (It probably goes without saying, but have separate utensils for each cheese.)
How to store cheese
There is quite a bit of information on this subject, and again, many of the ways seem to stem from personal preference. My brother-in-law has special containers that seem to work well with the hard cheeses he buys. I use cheese wraps and cheese papers as well as zip-lock bags. One accepted rule is to not wrap cheese in plastic wrap. If it comes that way, unwrap it and use cheese paper. If there is no cheese paper, wrap it first in parchment paper and then put in a loose bag or zip-lock bag. It makes a difference. Cheese wrapped in cheese paper lasts longer.
For watery cheeses or cheeses that come in a water bath, I transfer to a container and, preferably, the milk or water it came in such as the burrata or the mozzarella.
My best advice when it comes to cheese is not to buy it in a supermarket, which wants items to last a long time so it’s stocked too soon. If that is the only option, stick to a wash rind cheese and buy it as close to its expiration date as possible to ensure a more ripe cheese.
Here’s to happy cheese eating.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson, a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine, has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments are welcome at email@example.com.