We're serious — it's a briel good alternative to the overdone slate and/or wooden variety of cheese board! Agate is one of the most versatile design elements you can implement in your home. The stone’s from-the-earth vibe is a great neutralizer for any space, while the beautiful details allow Mother Nature to make a statement. Lake Superior agate is Minnesota's official state gem, but we swear we're not biased (maybe a little biased). Its innate ability to maintain a highly polished surface makes it a low-maintenance design element, as well. Opulence meets utility — what’s not to love?
(Our tour of the cheese case included samples, naturally.)
(The cheese case at Kowalski's in Excelsior, MN — just down the street from que será.)
Agate makes the perfect base for a cheeseboard; its marble properties help with keeping cheese and fruit cool while your tray sits out at a party. You can even refrigerate the agate in advance to prolong its cooling effect.
We have tons of beautiful agate slabs, coasters, and accent tables in-store (and online) right now. In partnership with Kowalski’s, our new neighbors in Excelsior, Minnesota, we’ve put together a tutorial on building the perfect cheese plate, using our free-standing agate slab table as the “board.”
The cheese are all made in the Midwest, many of them right here in Minnesota, and were carefully selected for us by the Excelsior Kowalski’s Specialty Cheese Manager, Virginia Corbett. Virginia is a master of her craft, and — bonus — she hosts cheese classes at the Excelsior Kowalski’s store, which we’ll definitely be attending in the future. Coming up this month, there are still spots available at the “Scary Stinkers” class, taking place October 20, 2015 at 6:30. Tickets are only $20, and attendees receive a $10 gift card back at the end. “Scary Stinkers” will serve as a great introduction to wash rind cheeses (two of which are included on our agate board below!)
(Presentation is key.)
Putting together the perfect cheese board isn’t so much a science as it is an art form. In addition to the obvious (taste and smell), color, texture, size and shape all come in to play when arranging your plate. Serving a variety of cheeses will ensure that all of your guests leave your home having found at least one new thing they like. We took plenty of photos so that you can see how we chose to arrange our board. Information on each cheese, including who makes it and where it’s from, as well as tasting notes from Virginia and ourselves are included below. Questions? Let us know in the comments! Say cheese!
Alemar Cheese Company
Camemberts are soft, spreadable, and delectably gooey. Both Bries and Camemberts are soft-ripened, making them similar in texture, but Camemberts tend to be a bit more flavorful. This particular Camembert is Virginia’s favorite, and after sampling, we definitely understand why! The longer this cheese ages, the more past-like and aromatic it becomes. When you decide to eat it depends on your personal preference, but we found it to be most enjoyable at it’s ripest. Bent River is Alemar’s “flagship” cheese, and it’s named after the portion of the Minnesota River closest to where it is produced.
2. Hansom Cab
The Lone Grazer Hansom Cab is made at the Food Building, mere steps from our office in Northeast Minneapolis. It’s a semi-soft cheese that can only be described as “big.” It’s got big flavor and serious ambition (it’s one of the “scary stinkers” that Virginia will introduce at her class this month). Its rind is washed in Lapsang Souchong Tea and 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, which was originally made in Minnesota, is now made in Ireland, and is available nationwide. You can imagine what that combination is like…
3. Jeff’s Select Gouda
This gouda is made in Wisconsin, but aged in the caves of Faribault. As a rule of thumb, goudas are yellow and made from cow’s milk, making it a fairly mild and very accessible cheese. Goudas tend to be a bit sweet, even fruity at times. Because Jeff’s Select Gouda is aged in the Faribault caves, it has an interesting mineral aftertaste, as well.
4. Fini Cheddar
Almost everyone is familiar with cheddar, it’s the “gateway” cheese for many. What makes this Fini Cheddar special is it’s cave-aged taste. As with the gouda, there’s a special mineral aftertaste that hits your tastebuds in all the right places. This isn’t your average cheddar, but that’s not a bad thing.
5. Big Woods Blue
The Shepherd’s Way Farm has an incredibly unique and motivating story. After a devastating fire destroyed their farm in 2005, the family-run business rebuilt and persevered. They continue to raise their own sheep herd and produce amazing sheep’s milk cheese, such as the Big Woods Blue. Read their full history here.
1. Chet’s Spicy Fennel & Garlic Salami
Red Table Meat Co.
Produced in the same building as the Hansom Cab cheese, this salami is to other salamis as the Fini Cheddar is to other cheddars — that is to say, sometimes the aging process makes all the difference. Under the leadership of Mike Phillips, the “artisan salumi-maker behind Red Table Meat Co.,” the operation uses temperature control measures to mimic Tuscan weather, making their processing methods unconventional, but oh-so authentic. They work with five local farms, where they handpick their animals from heritage breeds that are sustainably raised.
2. Gourmet Honey Butter
St. Paul, MN
This hand-crafted honey butter is one of those “accouterments” you could just as easily eat right out of the jar on a spoon. It’s made with only five ingredients: honey, butter, cream, sugar, and natural vanilla. Honestly, what’s not to love about that? This sweet and creamy treat pairs perfectly with the Big Woods Bleu, and it’s a great topping for any fruit sides you put out with your cheese (grapes, apples, you name it).
One last amazing thing about agate? It’s so easy to clean. All you need is a damp rag and a mild soap. We recommend Caldrea, another Minnesota-made brand (which also happens to be available at Kowalski’s)!
(Photos by Kaylen Ralph)