Not long after our friend T moved out to Chicago, he sent me a link to a wine bar/cheese shop that wasn’t far from his apartment that he thought I’d like, all but promising to go there when I eventually paid him a visit. I hadn’t forgotten about the place in the intervening months that followed, so when I was finally able to head out to the Windy City a few weeks ago to finally see him, going to Pastoral (the wine/cheese shop) and its sister bistro next door Bar Pastoral was one of the few definitive plans I had for the trip, and perhaps the only disappointment I had was that I only was able to eat there once.
But oh, was that one time a memorable one!
T was completely wiped from a particularly grueling work week, so by the time we sat down at the bar he was more than happy to let me run the show. Since this was my first time there, I decided to cede control to our very helpful bartender, who recommended a nice selection of cheeses: a soft cheese made with water buffalo milk, a lovely blue cheese, and a firm cheese that I’m pretty sure was Manchego. (This bad food blogger forgot to write them all down. Boo.) Some slices of chorizo and prosciutto di San Daniele finished the plate, along with a little loaf of crusty bread and a nice glass of red wine. Even better was that each cheese came with its own specific garnish, ensuring that when you loaded up a piece of bread with your cheese of choice, you were going to get a complex, complete bite.
Fast-forward to a few weeks later and an online chat with T while watching the weekend Food Network lineup, and I suddenly was hit with a desire to attempt to recreate that lovely plate. One trip to the Fairway cheese and deli counters later, and I had everything I needed: a blue Valdeón from Spain, a goat cheese from Vermont, a merlot-rubbed cheese from Wisconsin, some sliced chorizo, and a log of wild boar salami. The garnishes were easy: honey for the blue cheese, and little slivers of roasted garlic for the goat and Wisconsin cheeses. I didn’t get any bread this time around given that we had pasta, salad, and Cornish game hen on the menu, so we just swiped blobs of cheese and slices of meat off of the slate board as we worked.
The only effort required here was making the roasted garlic condiment, and even that was fairly simple to do: you roast the garlic in a 400 degree oven, but not to the point when the cloves are basically buttery blobs because you need them to be able to stand up to being sliced. Tossed with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then chilled until needed, and you have an elegant accompaniment that will make your already classy cheese plate look even fancier.
Here’s the recipe if you feel inclined to make it:
Roasted Garlic Slivers for Awesome Cheeses
- 1 head of garlic, most of the papery husk peeled away to a thinner layer protecting the outermost cloves
- Olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the garlic head in half, and place into a foil packet. (The top parts may separate, so just gather them and keep close to the main bulb.) Coat everything well in olive oil, and then seal up the foil into a secure packet and place in the oven. Roast for about 40 minutes, and then remove and open packet to let cool. When cool enough to handle, gently remove the cloves (try to keep them in tact as much as possible) and then gently slice into slivers. Add to a small bowl, drizzle with a good olive oil, and add a pinch each of salt and pepper and stir to combine. Chill well until ready to use, and then add to a cheese plate. Works especially well with goat cheeses and semi-firm to firm Italian cheeses.
I feel like this has the potential to pop back up here on the blog, but in the meantime, this is a wonderful place to start if you’re looking to assemble your own fabulous cheese plate.