Cheese is a truly marvelous food. No matter if it's soft or hard in texture, grated over a bowl of fresh pasta or enjoyed as is atop a salad or sandwich, there's a cheese for everyone. Stinky or fragrant, Italian or French, yellow or off-white.
You might like an ooey, gooey dish with lots and lots of cheese pulls (like this kale and three-cheese pizza), or perhaps you're more of a fan of a bronzed, crisped cheesy dish (such as this red pepper baked chicken parmigiana pasta).
Picking up some shredded cheese for a lasagna or one of our 10 other cheesiest recipes isn't a huge effort, but selecting the best options for a cheese board is a little more of an undertaking. The nuances, flavors and complexities of cheese are deepened when this food is savored on its own, without any application of heat or the inclusion of other ingredients to muddy the waters.
I recently spoke with Craig Gile, a famous cheese judge who is also the northwest regional sales manager at Cabot Creamery Co-operative. He took Salon Food readers behind the scenes of the worlds of cheesemaking and competitive cheese.
Gile is a former Cabot cheese grader who tasted up to 200 cheese samples a day. In addition to judging competitions, he presents "sensory presentations" on how to pick the best cheeses to retailers.
If you've participated in a wine tasting, the experience may sound somewhat familiar.
"I like to get people thinking about what they are tasting first. The vast majority of the time, we're not treating eating like a cognitive exercise," Gile told me. "I get people to look at the cheese, feel the body of the cheese, chew slowly, think about what they are tasting. Just focusing on the basic tastes is a great place to start. How salty do I think this cheese is? How sour or acidic do I think it is?"
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Have you ever shopped for an antipasto or mezze platter or charcuterie or grazing board and wondered how to buy better cheese at the grocery store? If so, you're in luck: Gile also shared his expert recommendations for putting together a cheese platter, pairing tips included.
First and foremost, Gile stresses one thing. Do not — I repeat do not — be intimidated.
"I have seen way too many people overthink and stress about building cheese platters," he said. "Have fun."
Now that you're ready to have some fun, here are Gile's five basic tips for building a better cheese board: