A cheese course used to be a regular part of every fine dining experience. With the renaissance of artisanal cheese, it’s experiencing a comeback at adventurous restaurants like Zy

Traditionally, cheese is eaten between the entree and dessert, but at Zy, says chef Matthew Lake, “Most diners start their meal with a cheese plate.” Lake offers a separate cheese menu, and diners can select a plate of two or three cheeses. Lake’s plate (pictured above) features personal favorites: Lagrein, a washed rind cheese from Italy’s Alto Adige region; Barely Buzzed cheddar from Beehive Cheese in Utah; Smokey Blue from Oregon’s Rogue Creamery; triple-creme Petaluma Brie and Humboldt Fog from California. At first glance, the plate looks traditional with classic complements of fruit, bread, honey and nuts. But Lake’s a true chef, so he’s tweaked the ingredients to make them even better. 

He roasts the grapes for 10 minutes on un-oiled parchment paper in a 450-degree oven. In a kind of cross between membrillo and honey, Lake makes a honey-thyme agar: Mix 100 grams of honey, a pinch of fresh thyme leaves, 50 grams of water and 2 grams of agar and let set about 20 minutes. Walnuts are poached briefly in simple syrup, then drained, fried and tossed with salt, coriander and allspice. Bread is plain house-made sourdough.

Cheese Plate Tips

The first step to putting together your own cheese plate is get to know a great cheesemonger.

Cheese should not be chilled when it’s served. Take it out of the refrigerator well before you plan to serve it. 

Put French cheese “leaves,” actually papers, under cheese. Find them at Liberty Heights Fresh or Williams-Sonoma.

Serve plain French bread with cheese; it interferes least with the aromas and flavors of the cheese. 

Skip out of season fruit. Opt for high-quality dried fruit instead. 

Drizzle honey over some cheeses, but be careful–honey flavors vary hugely.

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