Tia Keenan’s newly released cookbook, The Art of the Cheese Plate: Pairings, Recipes, Style, Attitude, redefines what we think of upon hearing the words “cheese plate.”
Keenan, author, chef, and fromager extraordinaire (otherwise known as the “rock star” of the cheese world), presents 37 examples of distinct, single-serving cheese plates comprising 100 kinds of cheese, 111 pairings, and 84 accompaniments, all woven beautifully together with recipes, tasting notes, and beverage pairing suggestions.
“Single-serving plates of artfully paired compositions set a tone of deliberate exploratory enjoyment,” Keenan writes in her introduction. “They’re like a Saturday night‘going-out’ outfit — a sure sign you’re looking for a good time.”
Keenan shared six thoughtful accoutrement recipes with The Daily Meal to pair with specific cheeses: Do matcha marshmallows spark your interest? How about lotus root and carrot chips destined for a dip in a salty, creamy cheese like Époisses Berthaut? We also snagged remarkably beautiful recipes for Meyer Lemon Marmalade, Sunflower Seed Brittle, Basil & Preserved Lemon Pesto, and — wait for it — Ritz Cracker-Bacon Brickle.
What is most striking, however, is how simple it can all be — especially with a little help from your local cheese monger.
We were able to talk with Keenan to find out more about her inspiration and the mission of her book; check it out below:
The Daily Meal: What is your philosophy of pairing cheese and condiments?
Tia Keenan: Well, they should be balanced in terms of texture, weight, and flavors. They should punctuate the cheese or play up a latent characteristic. But I think the missing ingredient in so many pairings, and the thing that’s in mine that people subconsciously react to, is culture — whether it’s humor, history, nostalgia, whimsy. Food has to taste good, but it also has to mean something. When we connect to food on an emotional level it, in turn, tastes better. I’d venture to say that emotion is part of our taste perception.
How did it inspire the recipes you chose to include in this book?
Each cheese plate entry in the book has a theme; anything from country of origin, to milk type, to occasion for serving. And so within that framework I really played with the “culture” of each plate. For example, in the love-themed plate I used accompaniments that in one way or another are associated with love: apples, roses, a pepto-pink beet marshmallow. I thought through each entry in this way. Some are obvious, and some are more subtle — my hope is that overall and intuitively this will influence the experience of using the book. Not everything has to be hit-you-over-the-head obvious to make an impact.
What is your favorite recipe in the book and why?
I really love the Tequila-Braised Rhubarb — it’s so simple, and as a technique, braising fruit in booze is something everyone needs to add to their repertoire, with or without cheese. I’d love for people to move away from defaulting to fresh or dried fruits on their cheese plates and toward braised and roasted fruits, which are so lovely and can be flavored to pair with specific cheeses. That’s my “classy” answer. My super funhouse answer is the recipe for Cracklin’ Jack, which is basically a caramel corn with peanuts and pork cracklings. It’s demented.
How do you hope readers will use this book, and what do you hope they take away?
I wanted to make a book that was both practical and fantastical. So, on the one hand, this book is very usable: The cheeses are easily found, and the recipes are a snap to use. On the other hand, I wanted to disrupt the clichés of what cheese plates seem to always look like: that wood board/grapes/farmhouse table in the afternoon sun aesthetic. I wanted to show people images of cheese that were sexy, playful, fun, elegant, cheeky, so that I could say, “Hey, look! Cheese can be anything you want it to be.” Because in cheese, so in life.
Anything else you would like the share?
I have some pepperjack in my refrigerator, and I’m not ashamed to tell you that.