Today, Kathleen Cotter, artisanal cheese expert and owner of The Bloomy Rind, shares some tidbits about her favorite restaurant cheese plates, as well as tips on putting your own together!
If cheese is your thing, you should know more about artisan and farmstead cheeses. The American Cheese Society defines artisan cheese as cheese produced primarily by hand in small batches, with particular attention to the tradition of the cheesemaker’s art. Farmstead cheeses are produced using milk from the farmer’s own herd, on the farm where the animals are raised. At The Bloomy Rind, our cheesemakers are almost exclusively artisan and farmstead, and additionally, our farms pasture-raise their animals as much as possible, which means the cheese will deliver a slightly different flavor from season to season, depending on what kinds of grasses the animals are eating.
Where to find artisan cheese plates in Nashville:
When dining out in Nashville, loads of locally owned restaurants have jumped aboard the artisan cheese wagon and bring extensive variety to the cheese plate. To discover Nashville’s best restaurant cheese plate, be sure to include Holland House, Lockeland Table, Capital Grille, Silo, Eastland Cafe, Flyte and No. 308, and Jackalope and Fat Bottom brewery tasting rooms in your search. These restaurants feature cheeses procured by The Bloomy Rind and will showcase a number of domestic cheeses, many of them from just down the road! What I love about these restaurants (and this is by no means an exhaustive list) is that they really support the local food movement. I see this in their commitment to offer the best artisan cheeses, as well as their seasonal menus that draw from locally sourced produce and meats.
Deciphering the cheese plate:
Choosing artisan or farmstead cheese over industrial cheese is an easy decision – now comes the parade of cheese terms that will help you learn what you like as you educate your palate. I discuss the following topics regularly with my customers as they explore the world of artisan cheese:
Raw vs. pasteurized
Pasteurization heats milk to a certain temperature for a period of time to kill harmful bacteria. The process also kills beneficial bacteria and can alter the flavor of the milk. In the US, cheese can be made with unpasteurized (sometimes called “raw”) milk if it’s aged at least 60 days. If the cheese is aged more than 60 days, pasteurization is at the discretion of the cheesemaker. So which should you choose? Pregnant women and other at-risk people are often directed to eat only pasteurized cheeses. I personally favor unpasteurized cheeses, as I feel it’s cheese in its purest form, but I happily eat cheeses of both variations if they’re delicious.
Is it OK to eat the rind?
I can make this one very simple for you: taste a little, tiny bit of the rind. If you like it, eat it. If you don’t like it, don’t eat it. The soft, white rinds on Brie/Camembert cheeses are completely edible and actually usually add flavor to an otherwise milder cheese. Many other rinds are very earthy tasting, so again, taste it. If you like it, have at it. Rinds to avoid: waxed, clothbound, or long-aged cheeses, like a four-year-old Gouda or a Parmesan, as those rinds are very hard and dry.
Goat vs. cow vs. sheep
The most common dairy animals in this country are cows, goats and sheep. Goat milk cheeses tend to have tanginess or acidity that is more pronounced. Cow milk cheeses tend to have more present buttery notes. And sheep cheeses are often nutty and rich. However, these are very broad strokes – cheese cultures, variations in the make process, and aging also affect the flavor profile of the cheese.
Soft vs. aged vs. blue
Menus at local restaurants will likely provide descriptions of their cheeses in an effort to give you an idea of what to expect taste-wise. If not, your server can. The terms can be subjective, but they should give you some hints about whether it’s a harder cheese like Manchego, or soft and creamy like a Brie or chèvre, or somewhere in between, like a tomme or Gruyere. They also can indicate how mild or strong the cheese is and any dominant characteristics, like buttery, stinky, blue, nutty, sharp, silky, tangy, caramel-y, or crumbly.
My best advice, in any case, is to taste cheeses of all varieties to discover your favorite styles. The more cheese you try at local restaurants, the better able you’ll be to assemble your own fabulous cheese plate for your next dinner party! Don’t forget items like honey, nuts, cured meats, dried fruits and crackers to deliver even more complexity on the cheese plate.
Thanks, Kathleen. We’re ready to say cheese!
Kathleen Cotter is owner of The Bloomy Rind, located inside both the East Nashville and Sylvan Park locations of Porter Road Butcher. Kathleen is a purveyor of cut-to-order American artisan cheeses and mastermind of the third annual Southern Artisan Cheese Festival, which brings cheesemakers and food artisans from six southern states to Nashville’s Historic Neuhoff Building on September 28. www.southerncheesefest.com