Three-cheese tray

Serving cheese during a meal shouldn't seem like a simple tasting. It should be treated as a dish in its own right. The cheese is not an accessory; it is a stage of the meal, much like an appetizer, main course or dessert.

There is a saying in French that goes, "A meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman missing an eye." As old-fashioned as it may sound, it still holds true. The cheese plate is an important element that grows more interesting with a variety of good quality cheese choices. There is a growing trend toward the serving of a single cheese at a time. When you know the tastes of your guests, this choice is ideal because you can integrate the cheese perfectly in the gradation of the meal: a milder cheese when the meal is on a note of finesse; a cheese with more character when the dishes also have stronger accents.

You therefore wouldn't serve the same cheese following a white meat as you would with wild game. When unsure about the tastes of your guests, offer two or three cheeses so that each can eat according to their preference. Choose from among different cheese families, even from different milks: soft cheese, pressed cheese or cheeses veined with milk from cows, goats or sheep.

Whether you opt for one or another method, the golden rule should always be to serve bread. Crackers, of whatever variety and taste, do not accompany cheeses very well. Bread highlights the cheese's taste, be it a baguette, country bread, nut bread, depending on the type of cheese. Likewise, avoid serving fresh fruits, instead favour nuts or dried fruits. Grape bunches are also to be avoided: they will alter the taste of the wine.

Depending on the situation, you could serve wine from the main course with the cheese or choose another bottle that respects the usual ascending progression. Nothing prevents us from returning with a white (often the best choice to accompany the cheese) with the condition to choose one that respects our progression. These three cheeses – the Riopelle de l'Isle, the Gré des champs and the Rassembleu – can be united on the same tray or each can succeed as a lone horseman.

Three suggestions

The Riopelle de l'Isle is a triple cream, a soft cheese with a bloomy rind. It is made from non-pasteurized cow milk. It is produced as a pressed cheese round, meaning it generally needs to be purchased in cuts. According to applicable laws, this soft cheese is aged for 60 days. Its name says it well: this triple cream is 35 per cent fat. This also gives it its taste and textured qualities. Very refined, it has an unctuous texture, a little buttery and at times slowly oozing. In its flavours we find the sensation of soft butter with hints of hazelnut and mushroom. The Riopelle de l'Isle, which carries the name of its most celebrated inhabitant, is made on the Isle-aux-Grues. A reproduction of one of the painter's canvases decorates the label. For each round of cheese sold, a dollar is donated to a foundation that helps young islanders.

The Gré des Champs is a pressed cheese made from cow's milk. The milk is particular. These particularities are the foundation of the excellence of this cheese. The Gré des Champs is a cheese made of raw organic milk. The Brown Swiss cow was chosen for the quality of her milk, and the herd is raised in conditions designed to render the cows... happy! They graze in fields seeded with flowering and aromatic plants. The milk retains these characteristics and the cheese inherits them. Beautiful cheese rounds will take on colour with time, and this artisanal farmer's cheese is aged and pampered for three months. You will find the cheese supple and dense with nuanced flavours that evolve on the palate. It makes one believe that, even if the cheese is actually from the lowland plains, it comes from alpine pastures.

The Rassembleu is one of the rare veined cheeses to be made in Canada. Among all the blue cheeses offered here, it has a unique place on the market. It is a cheese made from farmed artisanal cow's milk that is certified organic. Its manufacture is also particular and innovative. This blue is a firm cheese, veined throughout and a lot more blue than most of its cousins we find in the grocery coolers. Without the creamy side we find in certain blues, it nonetheless develops a complex aroma with a nice, muscular tone. It is aged three to four months as a cheese round weighing close to a kilogram. This is a cheese with high taste. It goes well with Porto, as well as liqueurs. And why not? Try it with ice cider, too!

Françoise Kayler