SE7EN'S A BANQUET, 9INE'S A BRAWL.

A 100% Nova Scotian Cheese & Charcuterie Plate (Christmas Time)

Posted On December 20th, 2014 Author Lia Rinaldo

The last time a relatively local cheese plate was featured on this blog was way back in the summer of 2012 and a lot has transpired since then. This is an exciting time for local (read decadent) foods in Nova Scotia and, in an effort to get into the Christmas spirit around these parts, I set aside a little time to play around with some delicious local cheeses, charcuterie and seasonal accoutrements.

Before we get started, it's important to note that there are a bunch local producers and items missing right out of the gates. This cheese plate was an exercise in restraint for me as I tried to narrow it down to one constructed and reasonably thought out grouping. Keeping it simple (sort of). Keeping it seasonal (most definitely). If you have been to my house, you have likely witnessed how the cheese plate spilleth forth like an unedited horn of plenty. There are guidelines for structuring and pairing proper cheese plates, but are they hard, steadfast rules? Not reeeaalllly in my world. Chances are, if you put a whole lot of things you love on a plate, you have probably surrounded yourself with guests who will love it along with you.

Let's get on with that plate! Generally it's good to include a mix of hard to soft cheeses–blue, semi-soft, hard and semi-hard. I also always try to ensure that there is at least one goat and one cow in the mix minimum. And... for the big surprise, one vegan cheese this time around!

Here we go:

- Two from That Dutchman's Farm in Upper Economy–Dragon's Breath Blue Cheese and the Old Growler. These are two distinctively different but wonderful cheeses- the blue is dynamic and has shown up in a lot of menus across Halifax-–most recently as an appetizer at the new Stubborn Goat Gastropub and is an ongoing concern in one of the city's best salads at the Brooklyn Warehouse, a take on a caesar only with blue.

- Two great goat cheeses from Ran-Cher Acres in Aylesford–Fresh Chevre and Mountain Ash Goat Cheese.

- Smoked Gouda from Fox Hill Cheese House in Port Williams. They have so many flavours to choose from, but the smoke always wins.

- The plate surprise–a house-made sharp cheddar from enVie: A Vegan Kitchen! Now hear me out, I may have committed an extreme faux pas adding a vegan cheese into the mix, but I'd like to think not. I fell in love with this nutty, buttery, almost påté-like cheese when reviewing enVie recently for Local Connections Halifax. It's a contender, says the meat & cheese-obsessed one.

- From Charcuterie Ratinaud–their duck prosciutto (a huge favourite around here- also in love with their cold-smoked goose proscuitto), chorizo and the ultimate–the foie gras terrine–AKA what I like to call meat butter.

- For the accompaniments–Haskapa jam (it's dynamite stuff!) & dried haskapa berries from Haskapa, LaHave Forests and from Ma Bell's Country Condiments–a Rosemary & Peppercorn Jelly. When there isn't plentiful fresh local fruit to be had, it's time to break out the preserves and jellies. Haskapa has taking our province by storm with a unique flavour and the promise of beating out every other berry on that magic antioxidants list. I don't even eat jam, but I eat Haskapa jam. And to the lovely Ma Bell, a fellow Slow Food Board member... hats off! You can use whatever you like from honeys to chutneys to pickled local vegetables. I'm olive and pepperoncini peppers to the core, but that's not so local now, is it? I'm just trying to give you a sense of how anything goes here.

- Ashwood Ridge Farm Estate Crackers–two kinds–Hearty Grain & Seed and a Gluten-Free Italian Herb- these are quite possibly the most tasty, beautifully hand-crafted crackers ever. We have our own Nova Scotian crackers! Get excited. Drop the bread off the plate this season and go with this gluten-free tastiness, saves more room for cheese, after all.

This is super simple in the set up. You want to take cheeses out ahead of time for about an hour, to allow them to get up to room temperature, and to what some refer to as the ultimate cheese state- bien fait. That warm, bulging (in some cases), nearly done place where a knife glides through easily. Grab a platter and arrange. Add in meats, crackers and all accompaniments. Jellies & jams can be served alongside or dumped right on top. Done! Some people pre-slice their cheeses to make it easy for party goers. I'm defintiely not one of those, I like to watch people attack the platter as they are want to do. In Halifax, all of these items are available at Pete's Frootique, the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market, in the case of the crackers and condiments especially (seasonally in other markets like Lunenburg and Hubbards) and, of course, direct from the businesses themselves.

Eat lots of cheese over the holidays and be very, very merry. If I have offended anyone out there with my goofin' around photo of vegan cheddar and foie gras terrine, their proximity and the possibility that one was seducing the other. Well, then my job here is done. Is it possible to love to diametrically-opposed cuisines at once? Why yes, yes it is. Enjoy!

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