Cheese Plate

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If you?ve ever had genuine farmhouse Cheddar from England, or real Alsatian Munster, or aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, you know that fine hand-crafted cheeses have absolutely nothing to do with the bland, shrink-wrapped, food-colored offerings that evoke school cafeterias. Artisanal cheeses?from luscious triple cr?mes to the ?boss? blues?are complex and richly rewarding, very similar to fine wines. And these cheeses get even more rewarding if you know something about their subtleties, their attributes, and how to get ...
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If you’ve ever had genuine farmhouse Cheddar from England, or real Alsatian Munster, or aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, you know that fine hand-crafted cheeses have absolutely nothing to do with the bland, shrink-wrapped, food-colored offerings that evoke school cafeterias. Artisanal cheeses—from luscious triple crèmes to the “boss” blues—are complex and richly rewarding, very similar to fine wines. And these cheeses get even more rewarding if you know something about their subtleties, their attributes, and how to get the most out of them—like which wines go with which cheeses (and why), or how a multiple-cheese tasting should progress, or what an appropriate portion size is, or which accompaniments work best, or why the Loire chèvres peak in autumn.

Max McCalman is one of the world’s foremost experts on these matters. As the maître fromager (or “cheese master”) at the acclaimed restaurants Picholine and Artisanal in New York City, he spends his entire day, every day, dealing with cheese—ordering it, tasting it, studying it, serving it. And The Cheese Plate is the culmination of his years of passion and study for this subject: the definitive work on how to enjoy the world’s greatest cheeses (and what those cheeses are) at home.

The Cheese Plate begins with the fundamentals: history, what exactly cheese is, and how it’s made. Then Max moves onto the subject that has made him a star in the culinary world—the art of cheese tasting. To begin with, it’s important to know how to buy, store, and serve cheeses, and then how to taste them (again, as with wines, the best results come with a little finesse). Then you’ll want to pair cheeses with other foods and beverages, especially wines, to bring out the best of both. And with all this expertise in hand, you’ll want to construct cheese plates, from a quick lunch assortment to a full after-dinner tasting extravaganza. Finally, you’ll appreciate a rundown of the best cheeses in the world—where they’re from, what they look and taste like, their perfect wine accompaniments—so that you can become a maître fromager in your own right.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
When New Yorkers and out-of-town visitors make a pilgrimage to the restaurants Picholine and Artisanal, it's the cheese course that everyone saves room for, and no wonder: With more than 60 selections on any given day at Picholine and upwards of 200 at Artisanal, their cheese selections are the talk of the town. What they have in common (besides owner Terrance Brennan) is cheese expert Max McCalman, who presides over the caves where the artisanal cheeses are ripened and stored.

You'll want to read through McCalman's cheese primer with pen and paper in hand, because I guarantee you'll find at least ten new cheeses that you want to buy right now. (I can't wait to try a Wabash Cannonball, Vermont Shepherd, Epoisses, or Hoch Ybrig -- and that's just for starters.)

McCalman, who freely confesses that his cheese knowledge was full of holes ten years ago, tells you everything about cheese, from its history and creation to advice on selecting, storing, serving, and pairing with wine, beer, and food. You'll find out such useful things as the news that rich, runny cheeses are actually lower in calories than the hard cheeses (pass the Brie, please!), and that in a proper cheese plate, cheese No. 1 should be placed at the six-o'-clock position.

There are no recipes per se in this book, but there are wonderful, recipe-like plans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner cheese plates; beginner plates; and specialty plates like all-French, all-Italian, all-British, or all-American. There's a helpful chapter that starts off with wines, then identifies the cheeses that go best with them. For all-purpose pairings, McCalman finds that the two most versatile red wines for matching with cheeses are Zinfandels and wines made from the Syrah grape, followed by Pinot Noirs; the most versatile whites are Albariños and Alsatian Rieslings. (Ginger Curwen)

From the Publisher
“This book takes cheese to the Max. McCalman makes the complex world of cheese seem manageable without sacrificing any of its mystique or wonder. Cheese lovers seeking a one-stop information source can stop looking.”—Alfred Portale, author of Gotham Bar & Grill Cookbook and Alfred Portale’s Twelve Seasons Cookbook

“I dare anyone to listen to the maître fromager, Max McCalman, talking about his cheese and not order something. He speaks so lovingly and with such knowledge that I long to taste each cheese that he describes. Personally, I’ve given up dessert at Picholine.” —Ruth Reichl

“The perfect read for the cheese lover from the most knowledgeable lactophile we know.” —Tim and Nina Zagat

“A masterpiece of information about cheese, its terroir, the manufacturing, and how to best enoy it; you will also find tips on wine pairing. Wonderful!”—Jean-Georges Vongerichten, author of Simple to Spectacular and Jean-Georges

The Cheese Plate is not just a peerless cheese book, it ranks as one of the most important food books ever written. . . . Sophisticated, articulate, a mother lode of information. This remarkable book is pornographic and should be wrapped in brown paper.” —Steve Jenkins, author of Cheese Primer

“Max McCalman makes me want to eat cheese every day. His detailed but easy-to-follow suggestions for assembling a cheese plate are inspired. The Cheese Plate is witty, opinionated, and entertaining.”
—Jack Bishop, author of Pasta e Verdura and Vegetables Every Day

Publishers Weekly
Max McCalman, maetre fromager at New York's Picholine and Artisanal restaurants, with writer David Gibbons, has prepared The Cheese Plate as an introduction to world-class cheeses. McCalman offers a brief overview then points the way toward profiles of various producers, discussions of how the various cheeses are made, how to store, unwrap, serve, what's good and what's not, pairings for tastings, tips and arcana. Susan Salinger's 55 full-color photographs enrich this presentation. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Originally hired as the ma tre d' of New York City's three-star Picholine restaurant, McCalman gradually became the full-time "ma tre fromageur" when the cheese course became a popular draw on its own. Since then, chef/owner Terrance Brennan has opened another restaurant, Artisanal, with a menu centered on cheese, and McCalman oversees that as well. His new book makes it easy to see why his fellow employees sometime refer to him as "Mad Max." However, McCalman knows he is obsessed, and he doesn't take himself overly seriously but he does provide an amazing amount of information on his specialty. The Cheese Plate isn't a cheese guide per se, although it concludes with a glossary to the author's favorites from around the world; rather, it's a comprehensive, wide-ranging exploration of the topic, from the history of cheese to production to buying and storing, with separate chapters on tasting, cheese pairings, and, of course, suggested cheese plates for any occasion. Steve Jenkins's Cheese Bible provides more information on individual cheeses, but McCalman's unique book is recommended for most collections. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780609604960
  • Publisher: Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony
  • Publication date: 3/28/2002
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 7.70 (w) x 10.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

MAX McCALMAN, one of the foremost experts on cheese in the world, is the maître fromager at the restaurants Picholine and Artisanal, both in New York City. Max has taught at many venues, including the Culinary Institute of America, New York University, and Macy’s De Gustibus program. He lives in New York City.

DAVID GIBBONS, a freelance writer, is the co-author of Overstreet’s New Wine Guide: Celebrating the New Wave in Winemaking. He lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

from The Cheese Plate

All-Italian Cheese Plate

Hardly anybody is surprised at the glory of French cheeses, but they will be delighted to discover that Italy its own masterpieces. Serve a plate like this to culminate a full-fledged authentic Italian feast.

1. MONTASIO: Fairly mild and somewhat firm in texture with a lingering gentle, sweet finish. It is a fitting prelude to the Taleggio.

2. TALEGGIO: A washed-rind cheese that will offer intriguing aromas and somewhat forceful flavors than the Montasio.

3. PECORINO TOSCANO: A well-aged Pecorino di Pienza, at 6 to 9 months, will close out the Taleggio and lead in to the next cheese.

4. FONTINA D’AOSTA: Should offer a distinct, tangy sweetness of fermented milk while holding onto some of its lactic sweetness.

5. PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO: A glorious center-cut chunk of mid-Summer Parmesan (I like mine about 2 _ years old) might convince you to call it quits, but there’s another great Italian waiting to be heard from…

GORGONZOLA: A good creamy Gorgonzola Naturale with a bit of a bite is the perfect clser, providing the Italian answer to France’s magnificent Roquefort finale.

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At breakfast, I need my cup o'joe to jump-start the day, so my first thought is of coffee-friendly cheeses. I wouldn't recommend anything too strong, certainly not a blue. Perhaps some hearty, substanial cheeses, even something a little salty if you're going to have it alongside toast and jam or other fruit preserves, which have plenty of sugar, to provide balance. Some of the hard, "rustic" sheep's milk cheeses -- Zamorano comes immediately to mind -- could go very nicely with fresh seasonal fruit on a breakfast plate. They are eminently digestible and also provide plenty of energy to start your day.

Breakfast Plate #1

  1. Plum, peach, apple or pear with Gruyère or Fontina d'Aosta which are coffee-friendly.
  2. Possibly Caerphilly or Lancashire, which tastes a little like scrambled eggs anyway.
  3. Croissant (optional).

Breakfast Plate #2

  1. Fresh berries or melon, if available.
  2. A hard sheep's milk cheese such as Spenwood.
  3. Tomme de Savoie or Timson. Timson is made from 100 percent Jersey cow's milk in the style of Tomme de Savoie, but it receives frequent rind washings; it is also somewhat reminiscent of Lancashire and pairs well with fresh fruits.

Breakfast Plate #3

  1. Baguette slices, jams, or preserves.
  2. Roncal or an authentic Manchego. I'd go for the Roncal with some honey, either spread on the bread or directly on the cheese, Spanish-style, highlighting the balance between the saltiness of the cheese and the sweetness of the honey.

Additional Breakfast Possibilities
Loire Valley goat's milk cheeses; Wabash Cannonball; Mary Falk's Big Holmes or Gabrielson Lake; Brin D'Amour; Le Chère Noir; Hoch Ybrig; Queso de los Beyos, also a coffee-friendly cheese, albeit a firm or semihard, not a rock-hard one.


For lunch, my first choices are cow's milk cheeses in a range from the traditional British farmhouse cheeses to Parmigiano-Reggiano. To me, the ideal lunch is a plate of three or four cheeses accompanied by a green salad and some good bread. An alternative is a plate of seasonal fruits, other than citrus or bananas, alongside the cheeses: berries, apples, pears, plums, and peaches all work well. If you want to expand the meal a bit, consider serving a first course of soup or appetizer and possibly a plate of vegetables to accompany the cheese main course. Lunch and supper or light dinner are virtually interchangeable except that you may want to give extra weight to the criteria of digestibility when it comes to a meal very close to bedtime.

For lunch, I wouldn't recommend anything too challenging -- no "boss" Cabrales, for example, where the mold has taken over and there's not so much as a memory of the sweet lactose. You could try some substantial flavorful cheeses, though. I suggest no more than one blue -- if any -- and none of the more assertive washed-rind cheeses. You might prefer to save those for the after-dinner course or a more formal tasting.

Lunch Plate #1: Classic British Ploughman's Lunch

  1. A large piece of Cheddar, about 4 ounces.
  2. A chunk of crusty bread, either whole wheat or white.
  3. Chutney or pickled onions, and butter.
  4. Nowadays, possibly a salad on the side.
  5. A pint of ale or cider.
Possible cheese substitutes: Double Gloucester, Caerphilly, Cheshire -- any of the traditional British farmhouse cheeses. (You might have Stilton.)


Spanish cheeses seem to represent something a little exotic and out of the ordinary for most North American gourmets. This plate includes a couple of cheeses that will definitely raise eyebrows.

  1. Ibores: Should be served young enough so that it retains a fair amount of moisture; it has the distinctive flavor of a rustic raw goat's milk cheese but is mild enough to qualify for the leadoff position.
  2. Queso de los Beyos: Dense, lactic, made from cow's milk. (It can also be made with goat's milk, but unfortunately we don't see that version in America.) It may seem a bit flat on the attack after the Ibores, but it melts deliciously on the palate, offering unique flavors and an intriguing mouth feel.
  3. Queso de la Serena: After the dryish Beyos we move to this ewe's milk cheese, with grassy flavors and a soft, luxurious texture that offers a nice contrast to the Beyos.
  4. Afuega'l Pitu: A good Afuega'l Pitu will be piercing and fiery. With this forceful cheese the Spanish plate is really starting to show some spunk.
  5. Roncal: Of all the Spanish hard sheep's milk cheeses, this is probably the boldest. Lacking the subtlety of, say, a Manchego, it makes a big stamp on the palate and has the necessary impact to follow the fiery Afuega.
  6. Monte Enebro: From sheep, we return to this wonderfully complex, dense, and flavorful goat cheese.
  7. Cabrales: For the clincher, it's got to be Cabrales, preferably the real thing -- that is, one made from mixed milk (cow's, sheep's and goat's). Be careful: Cabrales can get mean if allowed to go too far.

Copyright © 2002 by Max McCalman.

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