Wednesday, June 15, 2011

THE Perfect Cheese Plate

An oasis on Washington Square East

Talula's Garden is a vibrant new restaurant on Washington Square West in Center City, Philadelphia.  Its owner Aimee Olexy is a cheese devotee. At Talula’s Garden, cheese is a well nigh a religion, because it is Aimee’s enduring passion,  While she may have spent her formative years in Chester County, and sources many of her cheeses from the surrounding farms, she also draws deeply from her first hand experience traveling in Europe and California.  Aimee confesses: "I was studying in Provence and Toulouse and cheese crept into my life then.."

On a recent trip to Talula's, Keri and I experienced an oh-so-perfect "flight" of cheeses - a master course comprising eight artisanal cheeses.  I decided to try and emulate this cheese plate, assembling cheese and complementary condiments and nibblies that replicate our restaurant experience, by calling on the services of the cheese experts at Reading Terminal Market.

Aimee Olexy owner and Maitre d' at Talula's Garden
According to Aimee, nothing beats a good artisanal cheese plate:  " It really is 'Art' on a plate both in terms of the talent that goes into cheese production and the care in the execution," she says.  "I love to see people just sit there and chat over the cheese course and appreciate the craft that's gone into the making of cheese."

We asked Aimee to share how best to prepare an awesome cheese flight and she made the following suggestions:

1. "It's important to handle cheese correctly - you need to treat it properly," she confides.  To this end, it is imperative to serve cheese at the right temperature, i.e. it needs to rest for about an hour out of the fridge so that the fats in the cheese have time relax - only then can the full flavor come through.

2. "Consider the visual aspect," Aimee advises.  We enjoy food through all our senses, not just our taste buds.  Smell and taste are important but we also enjoy food visually - so think about how the food appears on the plate; you're looking for contrasting textures and colors. 

3. "Include a wide selection of interesting and varied cheeses," says Aimee. You want to arrange a cheese plate starting with the lightest, softest cheese ending with the most intense or pungent so your palate isn't overwhelmed.  Also consider textures, she recommends, include soft squidgy, crumbly, moist, firm, hard cheeses and maybe for variety include cheeses with nuts or fruits added.

4. Turn cheese into an experience and encourage people to linger of their cheese course.  According to Aimee: "Cheese is a great talking point."  At Talula's they suggest diners graze on a cheese plate even before the appetizers.  This is all part of Aimee's food philosophy, namely that great food deserves to be enjoyed slowly and savored. 

Armed with these pointers from Aimee, we ran along to Reading Terminal Market to catch up with Downtown Cheese and Salumeria to assemble our own perfect cheese flight for a weekend at the Jersey shore...

No comments: