Tahoe-Truckee experts share tips, tricks and the best fromage for arranging a decadent cheese plate
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
If I had to eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would be, without a doubt, cheese.
From creamy and funky to crumbly and nutty, there are so many different varieties to try across cultures and countries. One of my favorite culinary memories of Paris was not a fancy meal at a corner café, but sitting cross-legged in the park with a crusty baguette and wheel of buttery Brie. I’ll also never forget the first time I tried grilled halloumi atop a bed of mixed greens in a small village eatery in Greece.
And for me, summertime in Lake Tahoe will always remind me of gigantic cheese boards on the deck, surrounded by friends, a little sunburnt from the day on the water, but happy all the same.
Crafting a cheese board can be as simple as you want to make it, but there are some tips and tricks that can take the spread from average to decadent. To start, it’s all about choosing the right cheese.
“We are looking at having a diversification of milks and styles of cheese — something soft, something firm and something funky,” says Nyna Weatherson, who co-owns Restaurant Trokay in Truckee with her husband John.
Having worked every job from cheesemaker on a dairy farm to a cheesemonger at Murray’s Cheese in New York, Weatherson is a self-proclaimed cheese fanatic who keeps the elaborate boards at Trokay filed with unique American-made cheese.
While winter is all about firmer alpine cheese, Weatherson gravitates toward brighter, fresh cheeses in the warmer months.
“I love Vermont Creamery for their fresh goat cheeses,” she says. “On the West Coast, I love Tomales Farmstead Creamery and their beautiful kenne, which is a soft bloomy rind cheese.”
For a small group, go with three cheese options, Weatherson recommends, and for a larger group, select at least five varieties.
Jodie Schuster, owner of West Shore Market in Tahoe City, likes to punctuate her cheese boards with unexpected fromage.
“I like adding Laura Chenel’s marinated goat cheese, Spicy Cabecou. It’s marinated in jalapeño olive oil with crushed chili and always a crowd pleaser,” says Schuster. “It’s also fun to add a mystery cheese to the mix that you haven’t experienced before, whether it’s salty, spicy, soft or hard.”
South Lake Tahoe private chef Amy Lynne Power of Fed & Full likes to incorporate different textures to the board to keep it visually interesting.
“I want to do some rounds of cheese as well as take a firmer cheese and cut it into cubes,” says Power. “I love a Spanish manchego, and I’ll cut that into triangles to get different shapes on the board.”
Power uses a lot of cheese out of the Bay Area, including the Sierra Nevada Cheese Company’s Raw Organic White Cheddar; Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog, a lightly aged tangy goat cheese; Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company’s Original Blue; and Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam, a smooth, earthy triple-cream encased in a bloomy rind.
THE PERFECT PAIR
The next step is selecting the right accompaniments — a balanced mix of crunchy, tart, sweet and spicy flavors.
“Honey, honeycomb or bee pollen is super delicious with most cheeses,” says Weatherson. “I am also a sucker for just about any dried fruit, but I particularly like Turkish apricots and figs. Chutney is also a great way to add in a little savory and a little sweet. It tends to accentuate a lot of different aspects of the cheese.”
At Trokay, Weatherson and her team pickle everything from mustard seeds to cauliflower to add as accents to the cheese boards. Though Weatherson considers herself a “purist” when it comes to cheese, she will add Rustic Bakery Flatbread Crackers or Creminelli charcuterie to cheese boards outside of the restaurant.
West Shore Market’s Schuster rounds out her cheese boards with spreads and jams, like Diane’s Sweet Heat Habanero Jam, Enzo’s Table Sun Dried Tomato Pesto or Dalmatia Fig Spread.
“They are so great, especially over a Saint André Brie,” says Schuster.
Power, who often creates entire tables laden with cheese and pairings for large gatherings and weddings, likes to mix her pairings in among the cheese with a focus on distributing color evenly throughout the spread.
“For summer, I look at good fresh fruit, maybe melon or grilled peaches wrapped in prosciutto as well as nuts, olives, and crackers to fill it in,” says Power. “My last step is incorporating greenery and fresh herbs like sage, rosemary and flowering thyme, or even lemon leaf branches.
“You eat with your eyes first. Incorporating things with color and greenery so adding those textures takes it from a plain old cheese board to one with vibrancy and eye-catching appeal.”