Most people don’t realize that cheese is seasonal. And fall is hunky dairy’s best season. Those lush, late summer pastures that fed the goats, cows and sheep add flavor, texture and overall complexity to aged cheese by the time fall comes around.
To accompany fall’s mood, make a plate that incorporates the character of the season. Minimalism is still key, so play up three to four chunks or wedges per plate (this will serve six to eight people). No need to go all Sandra Lee on a cheese plate production, but a little fall nuance is appreciated. Stay away from over accessorizing with try-hard, syrupy, wine-soaked fruit, overly sweet candied nuts and breads studded with walnuts and dried fruit.
Choose a mix of some fall-embracing chunks. Maybe it’s a cheese with a cider-washed rind or a smoked cheddar. Or stay simple and pile on earthy cheeses and soft, super ripe and buttery masses that warm the soul. Choose the cheese first and build the textures and flavors of the accompaniments around the cheese – remember they are just there for support.
Incorporate fresh fall produce – and leave it at that. Toss grapes in olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for 15 minutes until their skins are golden brown. Serve next to the cheese. Place plain, sliced Granny Smith apples next to robust cheddars. Provide a dollop of homemade apple or pumpkin butter on the board or showcase a silver spoon dipped in some heady local honey. Roast hazelnuts and place them in a small glass ramekin and set it by the cheese’s side.
Serve cheese and its counterparts with crusty bread or toasted baguette. Traditionally, the mildest to strongest or youngest to most aged are served in order, starting at the six o’clock position and rolling clockwise. Remember to let cheese sit for an hour at room temperature before serving.