Pairing and Plating Shelburne Farms Cheddar

There’s no wrong or right way to eat cheese. Whether it’s for breakfast or dessert, in a picnic basket or on a chef’s tasting menu, you don’t need a rulebook to enjoy our delicious raw milk cheddar—don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! 

That said, there are some basic guidelines you can follow to make your cheese and crackers a gastronomic experience worthy of a banquet. With the right context, accompaniments, and a little attention to detail, you’ll find it’s pretty simple to delight and impress your guests. Here are few principles to keep in mind as you build your holiday cheese plate:

  1. Serve cheese at room temperature. Cold cheese is difficult to taste. Cheddar, in particular, tends to be quite tart and short (in flavor) right out of the refrigerator.  Waiting the extra 30 minutes to an hour is well worth it. It will allow you to taste and smell the full complexity of our raw milk cheddars.
  2. Serve an appropriate amount. Plan for an ounce per person if you’re plating 2-3 cheeses, or ½ ounce per person for 4-6 cheeses. (There are 8 oz in ½ lb of cheese.)  You don’t need to precut all your cheese into single servings, but if you start cutting a block into reasonably sized pieces, you’ll avoid the awkwardness of an overzealous guest mangling your cheese plate.
  3. Match weight and intensity with pairings. Would you drink black coffee with white truffles? Douse your filet mignon with hot sauce? Probably not. So don’t drown out a delicate cheese (like our 6-Month or 1-Year cheddar) with a strong, obtrusive flavor. Likewise, don’t pair strong cheese (like our 2-Year or 3-Year Reserve cheddar) with something that won’t stand up to the richness and intensity. Here’s an example: a spicy pepper jelly like Sidehill Farm’s Mango Habanero Jam will overshadow the delicate, buttered toast flavor of our 6-Month cheddar, but it is a perfect foil for the fruity, crystalline 3-Year cheddar.  
  4. Contrast or complement. When you’re choosing accompaniments for your cheese, try to juxtapose flavors (like salty and sweet) or to highlight subtleties in flavor. For example, the concentrated, slightly boozy, cherry flavor of Blake Hill’s Cherry & Ruby Port conserve is a great contrast to our nutty, woodsy, Clothbound cheddar (think peanut butter and jelly). Conversely, VT Smoke & Cure’s savory uncured Summer Sausage (flavored with mustard and garlic) is a perfect complement to our 2-Year cheddar, which hints at flavors of beef broth and caramelized onions.
  5. Drink something!  Enjoying cheese increases exponentially when it’s served with a beverage–alcoholic or not. A beverage gives your palate a much-needed respite between bites and a chance to contemplate the sensory experience. With beverage pairing, the same principles above apply. Our younger cheddars lend themselves better to lighter beers (malty pilsners or saisons) and richer white wines (like chardonnay and pinot grigio) while our more aged cheddars are looking for something riper, more concentrated, and complex (like a porter/stout or a cabernet sauvignon/merlot). Matching geography is also important. We make traditional English-style cheddars, characterized by rich textures and deeply savory flavors. So try pairing any of them with English ales (pale ales rather than double and triple IPAs) or dry, European-style ciders. With any beverage, remember that acidity loves fat: the right amount of acidity will wipe your palate clean and leave you wanting more.
  6. Mindful plating.  Aesthetics do matter, and largely influence the way we understand and consume our food. Try to construct a functional tableau on your cheese plate, incorporating edible garnishes (try baby arugula or candied nuts) whenever possible.  Your work of art might be decimated by your visiting relatives, however, so allow enough space between cheese and accompaniments so that everything doesn’t merge together. Avoid placing condiments right on top of cheese: let your guests make their own decisions about pairings and combinations. This also allows everyone to taste a cheese on its own before adding other flavors to the mix.
  7. Get creative! Your palate is a laboratory, ripe for experimentation and exploration. The most unexpected combinations are often the most gratifying. Try pairing our Smoked cheddar with Daily Chocolate’s Toffee Almond Bark or melting our 2-Year cheddar in your next batch of homemade ice cream–you might be surprised with the results!

Still have questions about pairing and plating cheese? E-mail me, our resident “cheesemonger” and all-around curd-nerd, at [email protected] for recipes and ideas, or to share a new pairing that you’ve discovered!

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