From Pasture to Plate: Savor Local, American Cheese

Why import European cheese when you can savor the fresh, nuanced flavors of local dairies?

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These made-in-America organic cheeses brim with great taste.

Photo By Michelle Galins

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American cheeses may not be as famous as French or Italian varieties, but many small U.S. dairies make Old World-style products—often from grass-fed or organically raised animals. Celebrate your local cheese-makers with a tasting of cheddar, blue, chèvre and feta made just down the road. You can add other local ingredients for a European feast right here in the States. Take a trip to your farmer’s market or co-op, and you’ll find everything you need—cheese, fruit, nuts, bread—to create a cheese course highlighting the best that your region has to offer. To locate dairies near you, check The Atlas of American Artisan Cheeses by Jeffrey Roberts (Chelsea Green, 2007).

Cheese plates aren’t just for appetizers or after dinner. For breakfast, try a mild goat cheese, some local curds sprinkled with salt and pepper, and a medium-sharp cheddar, accompanied by fresh strawberries and toasted brioche. For a ploughman’s lunch, combine slices of sheep-milk feta, a gouda-style cheese and a mild blue. Crank up the local flavor by adding a generous dollop of chutney or a few pickles from the farmer’s market and a pint of ale from the microbrewery.

Keep accompaniments local and seasonal. Look for berries in spring, stone fruits in summer, pears and apples in autumn, and dried fruits in winter. Add a mound of nuts (pecans if you live in Georgia; hazelnuts if you’re in the Northwest) or a drizzle of local honey (a tasty foil to salty cheeses). To complete your Old World meal, stick with breads from a local baker.

Learn how to create your own cheese banquet.

Peasant Eggs with Goat Cheese and Chives  

Try this mild dish for brunch, lunch or light dinner. When accompanied by grilled asparagus, a mesclun salad and fresh radishes, you’ve got a delicious meal in almost no time at all.

Tomato Brown Rice Paella with Peas and Cheddar  

This comforting dish makes an excellent main course with a crunchy green salad. Or, serve it as a side dish alongside grilled chicken or shrimp. This version was inspired by chef Deborah Madison’s Spanish Rice recipe. White Valencia rice is more authentic, but long-grain brown rice adds a rich, nutty flavor and firm texture.