The Local Cheese Plate

For the love of cheese, I have always had a great affection for cheese even when I was young. I would always go for the blue cheese dressing and loved the goat cheese that was always offered. But it was my experience in France that really brought it all together. I will never forget the first time that I had entered a fromagerie in Paris and I tasted the real Roquefort Blue Cheese—it was heaven. I had never experienced anything quite like that before.

That was only the beginning, as I worked and traveled in the different regions of France I was always amazed at how the cheeses would change. The French family that I was living with in Dijon had a chalet in the Jura Valley near the Swiss border. When visiting the chalet, we would drive down to a nearby cheese maker’s farm and they would show us how and what they were doing to make superior cheese—it was just fascinating.

I had heard of a cheese called Morbier that had a line of ash through the middle of the cheese but had never tasted it before. When I did taste it for the first time, I just fell in love with it. One of my favorite things is a good Morbier with red wine.

There is also a Comte cheese from that area, which is a great melting cheese and I still use it today for some of my dishes. The Comte cheese is a gruyere style but still very different. I would have to say that I did have a few cheeses in my travels that needed an acquired taste. But a fine red wine would always balance out any of the cheeses that I had a chance to enjoy.

That was 1984 and the culinary boom in the US had not quite started yet. Now, our country has really come a long way with cuisine and the production of fine cheeses. After my return to Lancaster County, PA, I was pleasantly surprised to find some very good cheeses produced here by both Amish and “English” farmers. There is a group called Farm Fromage and they act as a distributor for all of the small farms. Many of these Pennsylvania cheeses are produced from raw goat and cow milk. The grasses and feed the animals eat combined with the climate of the area all plays a huge role in the quality and taste of these artisan cheeses. I like to use them as much as possible for any of my receptions and dinners that I am serving. I will also use the European cheeses alongside local cheeses because it is nice to compare them side-by-side.