Composing the Cheese Plate

Recipes, Pairings, and Platings for the Inventive Cheese Course


By Brian Keyser

By Leigh Friend

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A complete introduction to everything you need to know about designing and plating beautiful cheese boards.

Cheese need not stand alone! Composing the Cheese Plate isn’t just another cheese book — it’s a gateway into the wonderful world of pairing and plating your favorite cheeses with dozens of sweet and savory condiments. Fromager Brian Keyser and pastry chef Leigh Friend provide inventive recipes that go way beyond the average crackers and jam. Instead, think chutneys, pestos, purees, whole grain mustards, fruit curds, nut brittles, pickles, honeys, and more!

Included are 70 recipes for cheese accompaniments and the philosophy behind pairing flavors, notes on affinage, seasonality, and presentation, a cheese cutting guide, cheese and condiment pairing guides, and everything you’d ever want to know about cheese so you can create impressive, unique cheese boards for your next party or gathering.





1.    Renaissance Ricotta with Husk Cherry Compote (p. 28)

2.    Brillat-Savarin with Spring Pea and Sweet Onion Purée (p. 29)

3.    Pecorino Foglie with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto (p. 31)

4.    Hooligan with Spiced Pear Cider Reduction (p. 32)

5.    Roquefort with Herbes de Provence Caramel Corn (p. 34)

How do we categorize cheese, and how many categories are there? As with so many topics, there is no single answer. Some cheese professionals like to think in terms of milks. For them, the five main categories of cheese are cow, sheep, goat, buffalo, and mixed. Other cheese professionals consider hardness to be the variable. They may refer to five categories: fresh, soft, semisoft, hard, and blue (although blue doesn’t refer to hardness). Some may stretch that list to nine, with subcategories including bloomy rind, washed rind, surface ripened, and interior ripened.

At Casellula, we divide our cheese menu into five categories: fresh; bloomy and soft; cooked and pressed; washed; and blue. Is this the “right” way to categorize cheese? There is no “right” way—but it works for our menu. Sure, our categories may be considered a little broad, but they allow room for us to discuss with our guests the differences between, for instance, “Alpine style” and “semisoft,” both of which fall into the “cooked and pressed” category.

We acknowledge that no system is perfect. Washed-rind cheeses can be soft and young, or aged and hard; although most are pungent, some are actually pretty mild. Blues come in all shapes, sizes, and textures. If we wanted to put every cheese in exactly the right category, we would have dozens of categories. There’s no need for that, so, for the purposes of this book, we are going to stick with the five categories we use at our restaurant.

Fresh Cheeses

Fresh cheeses (see cheese 1 on page 20), as the name implies, are intended to be eaten when young, before they age. They do not have rinds because rinds form over time. They are also the easiest cheeses to make at home.

This is always the smallest category on our cheese menu because many fresh cheeses are meant to be simple. They lack the complexity we seek in cheeses that we are going to highlight on a composed cheese plate. Most cottage cheeses, farmer’s cheeses, and cream cheeses, for instance, weren’t created to stand on their own. They are primarily ingredients in recipes or vehicles for other flavors. (See page 55 for the one cream cheese that we do love enough to highlight on a plate.) Fromage blanc, queso fresco, paneer, and Halloumi all have their place, and there are some very good ones out there, but we don’t generally put them on our composed cheese plates.

That said, there are plenty of delicious fresh cheeses that will be a great addition to your composed cheese plate. Chèvre is goat’s-milk cheese made by simply letting the whey drain from the curds through cheesecloth. Ricotta is made in a similar fashion, from cow’s or sheep’s milk or cream, and can also be made from the whey left over from making other cheeses. Pasta filata cheeses (also called stretched-curd cheeses), such as mozzarella and scamorza, are made by warming milk curds in hot water and then massaging them, stretching them, and forming them into a ball, knot, or roll. In the case of burrata, the stretched curds are wrapped around a center of cream or butter. All of these fresh cheeses can be delicious on their own, used as part of other recipes, or highlighted on a composed cheese plate.

Bloomy and Soft Cheeses

Bloomy refers to the fluffy, white rind that you find on Brie, Camembert, and other, similar cheeses (see cheese 2 on page 20). That white fluffiness is caused by a mold called Penicillium candidum. Traditionally, the mold lived in the environment where cheeses aged and appeared naturally on the rind. These days, it is often added to the milk or sprayed onto the surface of the cheese as it starts to age. The white rinds that look “brainy” on some cheeses, such as the one on Coupole, from Vermont Creamery (see page 127), are caused by a fungus called Geotrichum candidum.

Bloomy cheeses are generally aged for a short period of time—measured in weeks, not months. They are soft, sometimes chalky, sometimes pliant, sometimes runny. In addition to the well-known Brie and Camembert, you will find other creamy cheeses, like Robiola from Northern Italy and Harbison from Vermont. You can find chalky goat’s-milk cheeses like Bûcheron and Chabichou from the Loire Valley, as well as New World equivalents like Crocodile Tear, from Capriole Goat Cheese in Indiana, and Haystack Peak, from Haystack Mountain in Colorado. There are double-crème and triple-crème cheeses, like Mt. Tam, from Cowgirl Creamery in Sonoma, or Brillat-Savarin, from Burgundy (page 20). Humboldt Fog, from Cypress Grove Chevre in California (page 79), has a layer of vegetable ash running through the middle, and Bloomsdale, from Baetje Farms in Missouri (page 108), is dusted on the exterior with vegetable ash.

Cooked and Pressed Cheeses

This is a very large category that gets its name from two tasks that are sometimes employed in the cheese-making process. Curds can be cooked to affect the texture, and they can be pressed to expel moisture. Some of these cheeses are made from cooked curd, some are pressed, and some are both cooked and pressed. These cheeses have less moisture content and are therefore firmer than bloomy and soft cheeses (see cheese 3 on page 20).

Some professionals break this group into smaller categories. An uncooked pressed cheese, like Tomme de la Chataigneraie, is “semisoft,” with a spongy texture that gives a little when you push your finger into it. It is very different from cheeses that are both cooked and pressed, like “Alpine” cheeses (e.g., Emmentaler or Pleasant Ridge Reserve), or “hard” cheeses (e.g., Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano). Although we group all these cheeses into one broad category, we do think about the different types of cheese within it and how they pair differently with accompaniments and fill different needs on the cheese plate.

Washed-Rind Cheeses

Washed-rind cheeses have the bright orange rinds that you may have seen on Époisses, Muenster, or Taleggio. These cheeses are usually (but not always) pungent. In other words, they are what we call “stinky” cheeses (see cheese 4 on page 21). The orange of the rind is caused by a bacterium named Brevibacterium linens (usually referred to as B. linens).

In most cases, affineurs (the people responsible for maturing cheeses; see page 77) wash the exteriors of the cheeses with brine, beer, liqueur, or some other liquid, which prevents molds and fungi from growing but allows B. linens to flourish. The bacteria impart a pungent or stinky flavor to the cheese.

These cheeses are not for everyone, but we love them. Some are great on their own, but even the ones that are intensely stinky can be mellowed by the right pairing. Pickles and mustards often do the trick. One of our favorites is pickled fennel (page 97). Certain stinkers can smell downright offensive but become delicious and balanced with a bite of pickled fennel.

This category can include a great deal of variety; it encompasses cheeses that might be cooked and pressed or even blue. Although washed cheeses can be soft, runny, firm, or hard, or small, medium, or large, they can generally be recognized by their orange rind.

Blue Cheeses

Blue cheeses generally contain penicillium mold spores, either naturally occurring or added to the milk. These spores require oxygen to bloom, so the cheeses are pierced, allowing oxygen to get inside the cheese and molds to flourish along the veins created by the piercing (see cheese 5 on page 21).

If you look closely, you will see that some of the “blue” veining is actually green. In fact, many French blue cheeses, such as Persillé du Malzieu and Persillé de Bourgogne, are named after parsley, because that’s what the veining looks like.

The blue mold imparts a sharp, strong flavor. Some people think they don’t like blue cheeses, but we believe they just don’t like them yet. If you are one of those people, find a blue cheese, spread it on some bread, and pair it with one of our suggested accompaniments to balance the cheese’s intensity. You may just change your mind about blue.




Husk cherries come out in late fall. Delicately wrapped in a brown, lacey husk, these little gems are bursting with a sweet pineapple flavor. The compote may take a little time to prepare, but we promise you it’s worth the work. It also tastes suspiciously like birthday cake. It is a fun addition to this light, decadent ricotta.




1 pound husk cherries (also called ground cherries or gooseberries)

½ vanilla bean

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Remove the husks from the cherries. Rinse to remove some of the sticky residue.

Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise with the tip of a paring knife. Reserve half the bean for another use. Scrape out the seeds using the tip of the knife, dragging from one end to the other.

Combine the cherries in a small saucepan with the sugar, vanilla bean, and lemon juice and ⅓ cup water. Over medium heat, bring the cherries to a boil, stirring occasionally. Once at a boil, reduce to low heat.

Once the cherries burst, continue to cook on low until syrupy, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir occasionally with a heat-resistant spatula. You do not want to caramelize the sugars, so be careful to avoid overcooking.

Once syrupy, remove from the heat and let cool.

Store in an airtight container, chilled.

Chef’s note: Make ahead. It will keep for up to 1 month.

Other cheeses to serve with this accompaniment: Bloomsdale, mascarpone, or chèvre.

Creative suggestions: Husk cherry compote will brighten up any yogurt. Or try it as a simple accompaniment with panna cotta.



This triple-crème cheese from France is so creamy, fatty, and yummy you will think it’s a dessert, which it very much can be. But here we have paired it with a savory purée. (If sweet is what you are looking for, go with the stewed strawberries (page 97) or peach compote (page 55) The purée matches the creamy texture of the cheese, but adds vegetal, aromatic notes.




1 medium sweet onion (e.g., Vidalia)

3 ounces unsalted butter

1 pound fresh peas

1 teaspoon salt

Chop the onion into ¼-inch pieces. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and peas.

Over medium heat, cook the onions and peas, covered, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 to 12 minutes. Do not over-cook the peas or they will lose their vibrant green color.

Once the peas and onions are soft, transfer them to a blender. Add the salt. Blend on high until smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides at least once.

Scrape the pea purée into an airtight container, but don’t yet cover it with the lid. Instead, place a small sheet of plastic wrap on the surface of the purée to prevent a skin from forming.

Immediately refrigerate the purée to allow it to cool. Cover the container with the lid once the purée is cool.

Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Serve at room temperature.

Chef’s note: If peas are not in season in your area, you may substitute with frozen peas—but certainly not canned!

Other cheeses to serve with this accompaniment: Vermont Creamery Bonne Bouche, Tomme de Savoie, or young pecorino.

Creative suggestion: Use this purée as an extra flavorful layer in Shepherd’s pie.



This smooth, gray classic sheep’s-milk cheese is made only twice a year. When paired with the rich sun-dried tomato pesto, it creates a spectacular visual. The combination is no less exciting on your palate, where spicy, earthy notes from the cheese and bright acid from the tomato pesto heighten all your senses.



¾ cup young pecorino

8 ounces sun-dried tomatoes

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup fresh parsley leaves

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 garlic clove

Grate the pecorino on the large holes of a box grater.

Place all the ingredients in a food processor. Blend for 1 minute until combined but not puréed. You want a bit of texture.

Store in an airtight container, and keep refrigerated. Serve at room temperature.

Chef’s note: Make ahead. It will keep for up to 2 weeks.

Other cheeses to serve with this accompaniment: Tomme brulée, dry Jack, or Swiss.

Creative suggestion: Toss the pesto with some fresh mozzarella and basil for an unconventional caprese salad.



This reduction is a very versatile accompaniment to many cheeses. We have paired it with Hooligan, from our neighbors at Cato Corner Farm. It is a pretty pungent cheese, but it’s delicious. The pear cider provides a kick of acidity and a kiss of sweetness to cut right through that stink. If you need a little more dampening of the funk along with the addition of other textures and flavors, serve the pairing on a slice of fruit-nut bread.




½ vanilla bean

½ gallon pear cider

½ cup light brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

1 medium lemon

2 sticks cinnamon

2 whole cloves (or a pinch of ground cloves)

2 pieces allspice (or a pinch of ground allspice)

Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise with the tip of a paring knife. Reserve half the bean for another use. Scrape out the seeds using the tip of the knife, dragging from one end to the other.

Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Reduce the heat to medium. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally, until syrupy, about 1½ hours.

To check for the right consistency, dip a spoon in the reduction and then lift it out. If the liquid runs right off the spoon like water, you need to cook it a little more. If it is more the consistency of maple syrup, it is finished.

Turn off the heat, and let the reduction cool for 20 minutes.

Strain the reduction through a fine-mesh strainer into a heat-resistant container. Let cool to room temperature.

Keep refrigerated in an airtight container. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before serving to soften. Serve at room temperature.

Chef’s notes: If you are unable to find vanilla bean, substitute ½ teaspoon vanilla extract, and add it to the reduction just before straining.

Make ahead. It will keep for up to 1 month.

Other cheeses to serve with this accompaniment: Woodcock Farms’ Timberdoodle, Cheddar, and so many more!

Creative suggestions: Try brushing some on a roast just as it’s finishing, or add a touch to sweeten whipped cream or iced tea.



Popcorn is one of the more popular accompaniments at Casellula. This caramel corn is made a little more interesting with the addition of herbes de Provence, a blend of herbs that comes from southern France—just like the Roquefort. The crunch of the popcorn contrasts with the creaminess of the cheese, and the sweetness of the caramel both brings out the natural sugars in the cheese and plays against its sharp intensity.




2 tablespoons grapeseed oil or canola oil

5 ounces dry popcorn kernels

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 ounces unsalted butter

1 cup light brown sugar

¼ cup light corn syrup

2 tablespoons herbes de Provence

1 teaspoon salt

Over medium-high heat, warm a large stockpot, with the lid on, for 3 minutes. Remove the lid and add the oil. Drop a couple of kernels of popcorn in the pot and cover. Continue cooking until the kernels have fully popped.

Add the rest of the kernels. Shake vigorously, keeping your hand on the lid, for about 5 minutes or until the popping slows to several seconds between pops.

Remove the pot from the heat, remove the lid, and pour the popcorn into a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

In a small bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons warm water, the baking soda, and the vanilla extract. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup to a boil. Continue to cook until the mixture has reached 260°F as measured with a digital thermometer, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Add the baking soda mixture. Stir well. The mixture will bubble a bit.

Add the herbes de Provence and salt, and stir well, about 20 seconds.

Pour the caramel over the popcorn. Stir the popcorn until well coated, and spread on the baking sheet.

Bake the popcorn for 20 minutes, tossing occasionally with a spatula. Remove a kernel and set it on the counter until cool. Test it to make sure it’s crispy. If it’s still chewy, continue to bake for another 10 minutes. Repeat the test.

When the popcorn is crisp, remove the baking sheet from the oven and set it on a heat-proof surface. Continue to stir the hot popcorn until it’s cool, to prevent it from sticking together.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Chef’s note: Make ahead. It will keep for up to 1 month.

Other cheeses to serve with this accompaniment: Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Moses Sleeper, or any firm, nutty cheese.

Creative suggestions: Play around with the seasonings. Indian garam masala or pumpkin pie spice are great substitutes for the herbes de Provence.




1.    Tomme Brulée with Fried Pepitas (p. 39)

2.    Caña de Cabra with Lovely Lemon Saffron Marshmallows (p. 40)

3.    Good Thunder with Chipotle Cumin Mustard (p. 42)

You will learn a bit about cheese by reading about it, but you will learn a lot about cheese by finding a good cheesemonger. Exploit these professionals as the resources they are by talking with them, tasting with them, giving your feedback, and helping them to learn what your tastes are so they can help you find cheeses that you will fall in love with.

Don’t be shy. Introduce yourself by name, and learn theirs. If you don’t know much about cheese but want to learn, or if you know quite a bit already but want to learn more, it doesn’t matter—let them know your leaping-off point. Start by telling them what cheeses you know you like or think you don’t like. A good cheesemonger will help you grow in your cheese knowledge.

Unfortunately, some cheese counters are staffed by kind, decent, hard-working people who mean well but don’t know what they should about the products they are selling. Meet those mongers and move on. In 2012, the American Cheese Society started offering the first certification of cheese professionals in the United States. Look for mongers who are Certified Cheese Professionals (CCPs). There are also many competent mongers who are not certified, so the lack of certification does not necessarily indicate a lack of knowledge or ability. But if you aren’t sure, you can be confident that your monger is a good one if he or she is wearing the CCP pin.

In our experience, the most knowledgeable cheesemongers work in small specialty cheese shops. But there are very good mongers at the cheese counters of Whole Foods, Central Market, Union Market, and other specialty grocery stores and co-ops as well. Shop around as you would for a hairdresser. Find someone you like, develop a relationship, and stick with him or her.




On Sale
Sep 13, 2016
Page Count
192 pages
Running Press

Brian Keyser

About the Author

Brian Keyser is the founder and proprietor of Casellula Cheese & Wine Caféthe premier cheese-focused restaurant in the country. He has been a cheese evangelist and educator for over a decade and has previously worked at some of the best restaurants in New York City.

Leigh Friend is a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute. She was the pastry chef and condiment maker at Casellula from 2007-2014 after previously working at New York City’s renowned Gramercy Tavern. She continues to work in the cheese industry.

Brian and Leigh live and work in New York City.

Learn more about this author