There's a great place in New York called Casellula. It's a haven for cheese fanatics, and they do a superb job of elevating cheese to new levels with condiments. If you're bored with the typical sides on your cheese plate, look no further, because you, too, can create restaurant-worthy pairings.
Cutting the Curd, Anne Saxelby's (of Saxelby Cheese) weekly radio show on cheese, is pretty great and you should check it out. A couple of weeks ago, she celebrated her 100th episode by having the team from Casellula on the show to share some new (and seasonally-focused) cheese pairings.
You can listen to the entire episode, or get the crib notes here. What's cool is that a lot of the condiments are homemade, but you can find substitutes in specialty stores if you're not in the mood to make them yourself. Or if you're in a total pinch, they mention that you probably have some pantry items lingering around that can work perfectly well alongside cheese. They're all quite inspiring.
Casellula has featured over 100 different condiments and sides to pair with cheese. Needless to say, they're going way beyond the usual honey and nuts and jams. What the team says to keep in mind is the concept of contrasting and comparing. You'll want to do one or the other to find a successful pair. And remember, if you like the two things alone, you'll likely enjoy them paired together. Pairing is subjective. Let your heart do the talking. Use the condiments below as inspiration for your next cheese plate!
THE CHEESE: Salvatore Smoky Ricotta, made with milk sourced from Hudson Valley Fresh, lightly smoked with cherrywood. Distinct toasted quality and notes of marshmallow.
PAIRED WITH: Chocolate ganache and graham crackers, chocolate graham crackers, or a pecan tuile cookie. The chocolate pairings play off of the marshmallow flavors to recall the flavor of s'mores, while the burnt sugar flavors in the pecan tuile matched the roasted quality of the cheese, while contrasting with its texture. The pairing was likened to an ice cream sandwich, but one that's made with cheese. They also liked the ricotta with rosemary pinenuts, which were made by tossing the nuts in clover honey, salt, and rosemary, and baking until toasted. Talk about an easy, compelling, do-it-yourself cheese accompaniment.
THE CHEESE: Pawlet, from Vermont's Consider Bardwell farm. Made with raw jersey cow milk, this cheese has a mild, nutty pungency, due to its washed rind. Slightly tangy in flavor, semi-firm in texture. Aged four months.
PAIRED WITH: Pickled asparagus. The pairing team mentioned that a lot of pickled items could work very well with a cheese like this. The asparagus was pickled with lemon, black pepper, ginger, and garlic. Another recommendation was a dried cherry, rosemary, and red wine mustard, just a bit sweeter than your typical mustard, and a nice contrast with a washed rind cheese.
THE CHEESE: Queso del Invierno, a sheep and cow milk blend from Vermont Shepherd. The cheese showcases a great nuttiness from the sheep milk and a buttery quality from the cow milk. Very savory.
PAIRED WITH: Roasted cippolini onions, which match the savory quality of the cheese. The other pairing they like a lot was an orange confit, the bitterness of which worked well as a contrast to the brightness of the cheese.
THE CHEESE: Boucher blue cheese, nearly stinging in strength, made in Vermont. Spicy as can be, with a creamy texture and a lingering, peppery bite.
PAIRED WITH: Brown sugar fudge. I think it's clear that they were going for a contrasting pairing here. They also tried a sesame tuile, which seemed to go quite nicely.
OTHER CONDIMENTS: Of particular note was the mention of various other sides, which seemed either easy to create at home or something that could be constructed with the right amount of imagination. Either way, they offer incredible inspiration: Red pepper jelly, lemon lavendar mashmallow, rhubarb poached in rose wine or campari, pea pesto with pecorino, pepita seed brittle (which they recommend alongside a sheep milk cheese), manzanilla olive and jalepeno tapenade, roasted shiitake mushrooms with thyme, sweet pea and onion puree, beet chips, orange and fennel seed chips, rum raisin chutney with sauternes, and corn nuts!
Now go out there and run with these ideas!
Any other thoughts for creative additions to cheese platters?
• Visit Casellula at 401 West 52nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues in New York City
• Listen to Cutting the Curd on the Heritage Radio Network
Nora Singley used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
(Image: Faith Durand)