By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook
Of all the ways to display and serve cheese, I prefer slate or wood. Quite simply, both look great and show cheese beautifully. Both last forever and both are easy to clean. And, believe it or not, these types of platters are made in the United States, something difficult to come by these days.
For cheese trays, I prefer J.K. Adams Company, located in Dorset, Vermont. This company has been making great quality products since 1944, and I have used many of their products since I opened. In addition to great quality, I like the fact their products are produced from sustainably grown and harvested materials from Vermont. These products also come with a 100% Lifetime guarantee.
Slate Serving Trays
I am particularly fond of slate trays. The contrasting color between the cheese and the dark slate is terrific. Slate is nature’s perfect gift to us. Other than an initial cleaning, there is no special requirement to make it safe for food service use. The slate just needs to be cleaned with a damp sponge or cloth.
That said, J.K. Adams Company does not recommend using slate as a cutting board. The reason is not that the slate isn’t strong enough, but that it will dull a knife if used to cut. When using slate as a cheese tray, however, this is not a problem because one does not really slice cheese, if you think about it. All you are doing with a knife is separating in a wedge-like process. If you plan to slice breads or meats, however, you will want to use a wood cutting board.
I also think slate servers and risers also make an attractive service pieces on your table.
Wood Cutting Boards
Wood has the same appeal to me as slate, with a few exceptions. As noted above, wood can be used to cut and slice on, but you cannot do this on slate. Wood, on the other hand, requires a little more care for long time use. The following guide is recommended by J.K.Adams Company:
- Never put wood in the dishwasher or use in a microwave.
- Do not allow wood to soak in water or for liquids to pool on it for an extended period of time.
- Wash wood in warm soapy water and dry immediately. (I also recommend washing or at least wetting both sides to avoid warping of the board as it is allowed to dry.)
- Avoid extreme temperatures. Don’t plunge into very hot water or store in a refrigerator.
- Condition frequently with food safe mineral oil or beeswax conditioners. The use of these products will help stop cracking and keep your boards looking like new.
Leave Well Enough Alone
I have to retell a story that was written many years ago by Merle Ellis, famous author and butcher. It relates to the time when all of the old butcher shops were required by the health department to remove all of their beautiful wood cutting boards and butcher blocks that had been used for centuries. They were replaced with plastic, which could be more easily cleaned with hot soapy water and steam.
The article went on to say that two microbiologists from the University of Wisconsin, Dean Cliver and Nese Ak, decided to test this theory since there were no findings of any scientific study on cutting board safety. They tested boards from seven different types of wood and four types of plastic. They contaminated all with food poisoning bacteria such as salmonella, listeria and E. coli. The results showed that 99.9% of the bacteria on the wooden boards disappeared after only three minutes. Given the same three minutes, none of the bacteria disappeared on the plastic boards. In addition, on unwashed boards held overnight, the plastic boards showed increased bacteria, whereas no trace of bacteria could be found on the wood boards.
The article concluded by saying that the reason wood is so inhospitable to bacteria remained undetermined, and that more research would be needed to understand this phenomenon.
The microbiologists did point out that good care methods, such as those described in the guide by J.K. Adams, should be followed. Boards used for cutting meats and poultry should be thoroughly cleaned before cutting salad greens, for example. We recommend using separate boards for raw meat use only.
Cheese Tray Displays
Cheese trays should be arranged with whole wedges of ample size to both accommodate the amount of guests and appeal to the eye. I would rather see a smaller selection of larger wedges of cheese than a larger selection of many small pieces, soon to be dried out. Add grapes, other fruits and nuts to make your trays visually attractive. Last but not least, I am always reminded of the words of James Beard, who wrote:
I am grateful to have learned young that cheese has an
important place in a menu. It isn’t something to serve with apple
pie, and it isn’t something to be cut into nasty little cubes and serve
with crackers. Early in life I learned to see the beauty of great slabs
or rounds of cheese on the table, and I still respond to the sight of a
well-stocked cheese tray properly presented.
Delights and Prejudices