Few things are more satisfying than digging into a perfectly proportioned and prepared cheese plate adorned with all of the authentic accompaniments.
There’s a lot more to mastering the perfect plate than meets the eye (or taste buds). This is especially true if you’re using artisanal Italian products. Because the country specializes in all types of cheeses, from all different regions, they’ve created a controlled certification system that ensures products are locally grown and packaged. Known as DOP (short for Denominazione di Origine Protetta), it’s a promise to consumers that any food purchased with the DOP emblem is made by local farmers and artisans using traditional methods.
DOP isn’t the only Italian label to look out for. Another is IGP, which stands for Indicazione Geografica Protetta. This is another well-respected label that promises that the product was made in a specific geographic area of Italy but the ingredients used to make it may be sourced from outside the country.
Now that you know how to check for authentic ingredients, let’s get started on making that yummy cheese board! Some things to keep in mind:
Know your crowd: Are you hosting a party or planning an intimate evening for two? Knowing the number of people will help you determine how much to buy. Aim for approximately 1 to 2 ounces of cheese per person.
Select your cheese: This is the fun part! There’s a wide variety to choose from when you’re selecting between authentic Italian cheeses. If you’re serving your cheese before dinner, opt for lighter varieties like fresh buffalo’s-milk mozzarella. Porcelain white and creamy soft, it needs only a sprinkle of salt to pair with crackers or bread—or save for the appetizer course and sandwich it between fresh sliced tomatoes and basil for a tasty caprese.
If you’re serving it after dinner, go for a richer, full-flavored cheese like gorgonzola. For an authentic Italian version, go for the Mountain Gorgonzola, which hails from the alpine foothills of Lombardy. Serving your cheese plate sans dinner? Leap for super salty and full-bodied kinds like Parmigiano-Reggiano. Try the DOP-approved parm from Caseria di Sant’Anna farm in Modena for an organic version that delivers an unmistakable blend of salty, nutty, and caramel-like flavors. Another trusted, salty cheese is Asiago. The twelve-month aged version offers a hard, slightly chewy texture and flavor that flirts between Parmesan and aged cheddar.
Pair with wine: No cheese plate is complete without its aromatic counterpart. For a lighter cheese like mozzarella, pair with a sauvignon blanc like San Osvaldo. From the coast of northeastern Italy, it has a floral and tropical flavor that pairs well with the gentle texture of the mozzarella. For a sharper cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano, opt for a chianti like Querceto, a brilliant, ruby red wine with youthful scents of ripe fruit made in an authentic Tuscan vineyard.*
*Wines and spirits are sold by FreshDirect Wines & Spirits, License # 1277181620 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11215, Tel: (718) 768-1521, M-W 1pm-10pm, Th-Sa 11am-10pm, Su 12pm-8pm