The new cheese plate
By embracing the burgeoning American artisanal cheese movement (celebrated this October with the American Cheese Society’s first annual American Cheese Month), chefs have turned the most milquetoast of desserts into a must-have dish.
For pastry chef Bryce Caron, the act of putting together a cheese plate is completing a puzzle of three milks—goat, sheep and cow—in a range of textures. “I try to go for a fresh goat [chèvre from Nebraska’s ShadowBrook Farm]…a really creamy cheese [New York–based Nettle Meadow Farm’s Kunik]…something stinky [Bossa, a Corsican-style sheep’s milk cheese from Green Dirt Farm outside Kansas City], a hard cheese [Ascutney Mountain], and a blue cheese [Rogue River Blue from Oregon, which is wrapped in grape leaves soaked in pear eaux-de-vie].” Each half-ounce of cheese is topped with its matching accompaniment (e.g., pickled gooseberries with the chèvre), and though Blackbird usually serves both French and American cheeses, for October this list is all U.S.A., in honor of American Cheese Month. 619 W Randolph St (312-715-0708). $16.
“I’ve tried,” Mindy Segal says. “But there’s nothing I can do about it. I do not like goat cheese.” Segal’s plight happily has not affected the cheese program at HotChocolate, where plenty of goat cheese—such as Capriole’s chestnut leaves–wrapped O’Banon—is available. “I think about artisanship” when selecting a cheese for the menu, Segal says. She also thinks about “locality” (90 percent of her cheeses are domestic). Finally, “I try very hard to pick cheeses that aren’t going to be on every single cheese menu in the city,” such as Big Woods Blue from Shepherd’s Way Farms in Minnesota, ten-year-aged cheddar from Wisconsin’s Carr Valley Cheese and semi-soft Grayson from Meadow Creek Dairy in Virginia. The rotating selection (from which customers choose three) is accompanied by several housemade accoutrements: oat crackers; a multigrain brown bread; sweet, spicy, herby roasted nuts; and one or more fruits in various forms—dried, fresh, preserved (right now, the cheeses come with concord grapes, Asian pears and apple butter). “I sort of model my cheese plate around what I like,” Segal admits. Minus the whole goat cheese thing. $12 for three cheeses. 1747 N Damen Ave (773-489-1747).
Sable Kitchen + Bar
Heather Terhune’s key direction for putting together a cheese plate: “I always tell the cooks it should look bountiful,” the chef says. So alongside five cheeses, she adds housemade diamond-shaped pistachio crackers, olives, pickled radishes, nuts (currently candied walnuts), kumquat and sour-cherry compotes, and seasonal fruit (recently Champagne grapes). To celebrate American Cheese Month, October’s plate (sourced from Pastoral) features Zingerman’s Lincoln log goat cheese; Saint Rocco Brie from a Benton Harbor, Michigan, cheesemaker; Spring Brook Tarentaise, a semifirm raw cow’s-milk cheese from Vermont; and Roth Käse Buttermilk Blue and Carr Valley Marisa (a sheep’s-milk cheese), both from Wisconsin. 505 N State St (312-755-9704). Half (one-ounce portions) $12, full (two-ounce portions) $24.
For a sommelier, it’s crucial to serve wine at the right temperature, and Johnny Anderes takes tempering cheese just as seriously. “When you get a soft cheese, it’s gonna be soft and a little bit runny,” the chef of this wine bar explains. In contrast to the emphasis on French and Spanish cheeses at Avec (where Anderes was formerly the sous chef), at Telegraph he has free rein. His current favorite is Le Vieux Berger Roquefort, which he pairs with two cheeses from small Vermont farms: an Alpine-style cow’s-milk cheese called Ascutney Mountain and a raw goat’s-milk cheese from Twig Farm that “tastes like caramelly marshmallows.” Also on the plate: a chunk of Michigan honeycomb sprinkled with Moroccan mint tea leaves, an heirloom-apple salad, watermelon mostarda and misson-fig jam. “The more stuff the better, as far as I’m concerned,” Anderes says. Yet somehow, he doesn’t get particularly attached: The cheeses (sourced from Pastoral and Marion Street Cheese Market) change weekly. 2601 N Milwaukee Ave (773-292-9463). $16.