Patstoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine has been Chicago's 'go to' shop for the highest quality cheese and locally made or artisan products. Their original location is located in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, followed by locations in the Loop and the Chicago French Market. For my lesson in cheese plate building, I sat down with Bryan at the bar in cozy Bar Pastoral-- Pastoral Lakeview's adjoining restaurant-- and enjoyed a beautiful cheese plate while Bryan explained the logic behind building it.
1. Bent River Camembert -- a soft cow's milk cheese from Minnesota. This cheese had a great spreadable creamy consistency and a mild earthy flavor. Bryan paired it with a briny black olive tapenade, which complemented this mild cheese with a great salty punch of flavor.
2. Mont St. Francis Washed Rind -- a semi-firm goat's milk cheese from nearby Greenville, Indiana. This cheese is rich and the flavors are pungent, so it paired really nicely with the sweet and earthy buckwheat honey that Bryan selected.
3. Ossau-Irati -- this Basque-style sheep's milk cheese was my favorite of the tasting. It's a pressed natural rind cheese (not cooked like you might find in something rich like a Gruyere) with a delicious smooth milky quality about it. Bryan paired it with some delicious tangy pickled carrots that I could not eat quickly enough.
4. Blu di Bufalo -- Last, but not least: the most unique cheese of the bunch. While water buffalo milk is most often associated with mozzarella, this Italian blue was a really fragrant and funky cheese. Bryan suggests that you pair cheeses like this with something on the sweeter side and he selected a salted bacon caramel corn for our pairing.
Bryan's Tips for Building the Perfect Cheese Plate:
1. Include 4-5 different cheeses. Bryan suggests that you feature a variety of different cheeses on your plate. Some attributes to consider when making your selections:
- Highlight both domestic and international cheeses.
- Texture: choose from soft, washed rind, semi-firm, firm, and blue cheeses.
- Use cheeses made from different kinds of milk: cow, goat, and sheeps milk cheeses are easy to find and Bryan suggests you feature at least one of each. Bonus points if your fourth cheese is made from water buffalo milk!
3. Use a slate cheese board. Light and brightly colored cheeses (which is most of them) pop when plated on a dark surface like slate. The slate board automatically elevates the look of your cheese plate and you can use chalk on it to label each cheese you are featuring.
4. Trust your cheese monger. Need help making your cheese selections? Ask your cheese monger for help. Tell them what cheeses you like, what you don't like, and ask for suggestions based on that. Taste test the cheese and don't be afraid to be honest-- your cheese monger wants you to enjoy their products and much as they do!
5. Have fun! Bryan has great tips, but there's no exact science to crafting your cheese plate so you really do have the freedom to make your board as traditional or as creative as you want.
Pastoral stocks between 100 and 150 cheeses daily, so no matter what you like or what you are looking for you will be able to find it there! In addition, they carry great artisan products that would make the perfect accompaniments for your cheese plate-- and great gifts too. I perused the shop for a bit after Bryan and I talked cheese and selected some of my favorite products to share with you:
Small batch alcohol from local Chicago distilleries... including limoncello!
My favorite artisan condiment company American Spoon (out of Michigan) has a few products on the shelf here too.
A gorgeous and varied selection of mustards-- one of my personal favorite items to pair with cheese.
And that delicious bacon caramel popcorn is available at Pastoral in a few different varieties.
Last but not least, Pastoral sells amazing holiday gift baskets! So, if you're not hosting and creating a cheese plate yourself, Pastoral still has great options for you to bring to your hostess too. They have some baskets that have already been put together with items that the Pastoral staff recommends you serve and enjoy together. You can also go in and get creative, selecting your own items for your basket too!
Thanks for a wonderful (and educational) evening, Bryan and Pastoral! And to the rest of you: Happy cheese plate making!