Chocolate cake. Cream puffs. Brownies and cookies. Those are the things Americans usually think about when it’s time for dessert. A sweet send off at the end of a savory meal, maybe paired with some port wine or a late harvest Riesling.
But, there is something to be said about creating a fabulous cheese plate for dessert. Cheese acts as a dessert in many European countries and is often overlooked as a meal-ending treat in the American mind. But, says Jessica Affatato, owner of Harbor Cheese and Provisions in Northport, NY, cheese can be the perfect end to a meal if you begin by creating the mood.
“I think approaching it as a final point of the whole meal is a good frame of mind. Dessert itself should create a finish to the experience. Put out a cheese board alongside espressos, port and dark chocolate,” she says.
Affatato says that building a cheese board for dessert is a completely different experience than creating one as an appetizer to welcome guests or something to pick on throughout the evening.
“I tend to go more minimalist for a dessert platter, focusing on one or two star cheeses with a few accompaniments. After a large dinner with lots of different flavors, bringing the the meal down to a focused final point in a dessert cheese platter is a lovely way to end the meal,” she says.
The process of picking cheeses for a meal-ending platter, too, is different. She suggests plating buttery triple cremes like Brillat Savarin; peppery fudge blues like Stilton or Bayley Hazen Blie; or a very good fresh ricotta (she recommends Bellwether) drizzled with honey.
Charles Duque, current managing director, Americas for CNIEL [French Dairy Board] who also oversees operations at New York, NY-based French Cheese Board, notes that no matter how many cheeses are selected for a dessert board, the way it is arranged needs to be on-point for a pleasing gustatory experience.
“Using different textures and colors makes for a visually interesting board, but you should arrange the cheeses from mild to wild. That way, your palate will be able to savor each cheese as they increase in intensity,” he says.
While cheese is normally the star of the show on a cheese or charcuterie board pre-meal, creating a board for dessert has as much to do about the accompaniments as the cheeses. Unlike cheese boards used as a pre-cursor to a meal, an after dinner board should have goodies that make the experience feel elevated, says Affatato.
“I pick one fruit that perfectly in season — pears, grapes, figs, blood oranges — and build it from there. Dark chocolate, honey comb, rich jams, champagne — all that works. Dried fruits woke nicely as well. For a cracker look for a sweet raisiny country bread, sweet crackers, or Tortas,” she says.
While honey and jam are favorites of Duque as well, he explains that dessert is also a great time to get a little creative with nuts, adding some sweet or unique choices to your plate for texture and flavor.
“So many people use nuts on their cheese boards and who doesn’t love the crunch and variety. Dessert is a time to up your nut game. Consider candied or toffee nuts like cashews and walnuts — the glaze will add some glisten to your board and the nuts are truly dessert on their own,” he says.
And, says Duque, don’t forget that balancing bite selections with after-dinner drinks is especially crucial when using cheese as a dessert for a complete experience.
“For creamy cheeses, think about a bubbly rosé Champagne or brut to cut the creaminess of the cheese. For bleu cheeses, sauternes are a great match. If you are ready to pull out bottles from your liquor cabinet, mimolette pairs well with Four Roses small batch bourbon and a cognac with mocha and coffee flavors is perfect for an epoisses,” he says.