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Five Simple Suggestions for Planning a Cheese Board

Chantal’s Cheese Shop owner Anaïs Saint-André Loughran has gouda advice.

photo by erin Kelly

The cheese board is one of the all-time great crowd pleasers for any get-together, except for the lactose-intolerant (my deepest apologies) and for vegans (I respect your choices). It requires minimal preparation, looks pretty and puts a substantial dent in your appetite. Cheese, however, like wine, is known for its endless varieties and unfamiliar names. It can be an intimidating thing to shop for. So I asked Anaïs Saint-André Loughran, owner and cheesemonger of Chantal’s Cheese Shop in Bloomfield, for a few pointers on selecting cheeses.

Saint-André Loughran, 30, is from Lyon, France, and grew up in a family that loved food. She moved to the United States 10 years ago, spending time in restaurants in California and New York City. While in New York, she worked at Greene Grape Provisions in Fort Greene, where she says she learned most of what she knows about cheese. She also attributes her native country for some of her knowledge. “Growing up in France, I also learned a lot about cheese,” she says.

Some of her early childhood experiences, what she calls her “cheese memories,” revolve around the first time she tried a beloved variety (including one where she ate half of a large wheel and became violently ill from over-indulging). Since opening Chantal’s a year ago, she’s been working to help people create their own cheese memories. Here are some of her suggestions for putting together your next cheese plate.

Ask a professional.
Head to a cheese shop or counter and have a cheesemonger cut you some samples. Trying something before you commit to it, especially when sticker prices may look high, will help you gather more information about what kind of cheeses you like. “I want people to be comfortable, so we ask a lot of questions,” says Saint-André Loughran.

Start with what you know you like.
Saint-André Loughran’s first question is always what a customer knows they already like. Even something as simple as cheddar is starting point for trying other varieties like it, like derby or cheshire. “Sometimes we’ll miss it, but we can continue trying things,” she says.  

Pick a couple of different milks and textures.
Choosing cheeses made from different milks allows you to discern the differences in flavor and helps you learn more about what you prefer. Different textures allow you to play with pairings, like breads to spread soft cheeses on and pickled vegetables for a crunch with harder, denser cheeses. “I’ll often pick three or four cheeses for people. You have to play with texture; a young cheese, a semi-soft and a hard one. Then, I’ll typically pick a goat, a sheep and a cow cheese,” says Saint-André Loughran.

If it grows together, it probably goes together.
Each cheese is made in a different region. To explore what might be a good pairing, look at what else is grown or made in that region. Combinations like brie and triple-créme paired with champagne or manchego and quince paste are classic examples of this rule. “In the Basque country, they do a lot of sheep’s milk cheese. They grow black cherries in the region and make jam. They serve them together and it tastes incredible,” says Saint-André Loughran.

When in doubt, pair with fig spread or quince paste.
“It’s always going to work,” says Saint-André Loughran.

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