As a wholesale Cheesemonger who talks to chefs on a daily basis, I frequently hear the same cheese requests repeated again and again.

“I need a sheep, a goat, and a cow’s milk of course.” 

“We are looking only for local cheese.”

“Can you send me the stinkiest, oldest cheese you can find?”

If I followed these directives and only provided the styles of cheese that these chefs asked for, restaurant patrons across Chicagoland would be falling asleep on their cheese boards.

In-the-know chefs are presenting their cheese selections in more interesting assortments and using more creative, out-of-the box thinking when coming up with their plates.  The following examples represent some fresh ideas in cheese board assembly:

Same but different 
Base your board on a flight of cheese made from the same milk or style.  A soft, hard, and blue all made from goat milk can show off the nuanced characteristics, both similarities and differences, of that particular milk. Alternatively, place three different styles of cheddar on the same plate and blow your guests’ minds.

Drinks all around 
Speaking of flights, try a cheese assortment based on beverage pairings.  At Bar Pastoral, we present a monthly beverage focus and a cheese plate designed to match. “It’s a collaborative effort,” says Beverage Buyer Mark Wrobel, “and every month we discover some really unique pairings.” Past pairings have included flights of hard cider, roses, and local craft beers.

Get into terroir
Rather than focusing on a whole country, hone in on a region that complements your cuisine. Try a northern Italian cheese flight, for example, or go old world vs. new world and highlight some domestic versions of classic cheeses, side by side with the originals.

Get crazy with the go-withs
Fantastic cheese calls for fun, innovative accompaniments to get the cheese plate orders rolling in. At Bar Pastoral, recent boards have paired cheese with crackerjacks, dill potato chips, even brownies!  Says Bryan “Burnie” Bland, Head Cheesemonger, “Customers are surprised when they see chocolate, but it’s a terrific pairing with a rich blue cheese.”

Use your words 
Rootstock’s cheese menu (pictured above) offers clever, out of the ordinary descriptions for their artisan cheese selection from Pastoral.

The above suggestions are meant to stimulate your creativity and steer you away from the tried and true.  Like so many things culinary, respect for the classics paves the way for new ideas in cheese plates.