Monday, February 20, 2006

Venison Dinner Party-Part 2-The Cheese Plate

Click image to enlarge.

The Cheese Plate
Obviously you can go to any grocery store, grab a few hunks of cheese and throw them on a plate with some crackers and olives out of a jar, but come on. You've made everything else for the evening 4-star, why not the cheese plate too.

Here are some recommendations and resources for making the ultimate cheese plate. Cheese is my favorite thing on the planet so I might get a little carried away here but bear with me. Also, if you want to read more about my cheese life experiences, read my article.

1. Take out your largest, nicest platter. An aesthetically pleasing canvas for your artistic cheese display is a great place to start.
2. Pick a nice selection of cheeses. Some people hate stinky cheeses. Some people are bored by more simple cheeses. Give them options.
3. Include a variety of crackers. Some cheeses are so intense and flavorful that a simple water crackers is all that's needed. It's basically just a vehicle for the cheese. Other cheeses are more simple (some goat cheeses and cheddars for example) and a little flavor in the cracker is a nice complement to the cheese.
4. Pepper your cheese plate with cured meats, olives, roasted red peppers, cornichons and other savory items that will be delicious accompanied with your cheese choices. You can also go the sweet route and serve items like fig jam and fruit. I wouldn't mix the sweet and savory accoutrements though. Choose one and go with it.

Sources for the Best Cheese, Olives, Cured Meats and Other Cheese Plate Items

Formaggio Kitchen
2 locations. One in Cambridge, one in Boston. I prefer the Cambridge location. It's larger and seems to have more choices (although they both have a great selection). Lucky for all of us, they also take online and phone orders.
244 Huron Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138 (about a 10-minute walk from Harvard Square)
268 Shawmut Avenue, Boston, MA (South End)
For those who love cheese, you will feel like you have died and gone to heaven when you enter Formaggio Kitchen. They have an incredible cheese selection (two HUNDRED to three hundred at any given time) and you'll find many samples around the store that you can sample. As busy and hectic as it gets in there, the staff is always helpful, patient and more than willing to make reservations. (Once I was in there and ran out of cheese vocabulary. I told the guy at the counter I wanted something "yummy." He simply smiled, pulled out a wheel of his favorite cheese and said, "This is the most yummy cheese we have.") Of course I wasn't disappointed. They even have a cheese cave in the basement that duplicates the conditions found in those ancient caves of England and France. They store entire wheels there until they are perfectly ripe and ready for slicing.

Formaggio also has olives, cured meats, chocolate, mustards, olive oils, various condiments and wine. And adjoining Formaggio Kitchen is a small gourmet grocery store where you can buy fresh produce, homemade pastas, amazing breads and flowers.

Wine and Cheese Cask
407 Washington Street, Somerville (right near Dali for those of you who know that restaurant)
This is a great one-stop shop for cheese plate accoutrements. They have a wide selection of cheeses. They also carry excellent olives, condiments, wines, ports. They also make sandwiches to go. I recommend grabbing one since you won't have time to make breakfast or lunch on this day.

Court House Fish Market
484 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA (midway between Inman Square and the Cambridgeside Galleria)
I know what you're thinking...why is she directing me to a fish market for cheese plate items. Well, this market not only has beautiful fresh fish but they also carry wonderful Portuguese specialty items. They have barrels of olives, a variety of Portuguese cheeses, as well as linguica and chorico (Portuguese sausages). It's a fun, lively place. Well worth a stop. As an aside, they also have a seafood restaurant a few doors down (498 Cambridge Street) called Court House Seafood Restaurant that's excellent. No frills, fresh, inexpensive seafood.

Whole Foods Market
While Whole Foods probably doesn't need promoting, some of you might not realize what an amazing cheese selection they have. The River Street location in Cambridge has been awarded Best of Boston several times for its cheese selection and for good reason (although I still think Formaggio is better).
Dozens of locations across the country. Recommended location in Boston area:
340 River Street, Cambridge

For my NYC friends...
Murray's Cheese
254 Bleecker Street (between 6th & 7th Avenues), Greenwich Village
1.888.MY.CHEEZ (love the phone number)

And if you happen to be on vacation on Nantucket...
Fahey & Formaggerie
49A Pleasant Street, Nantucket
Not only do they have a great cheese and wine selection but they make a mean Cuban sandwich to go.


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