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The Mother of Modern Charcuterie

Marissa Mullen and Her Next Level Cheese Plates

Article by Robin Moyer Chung

Photography by Marissa Mullen

Originally published in Westport Lifestyle

Growing up, Marissa Mullen was the family cheese-plater, an occupation she continued to pursue through college and career.

Ten years ago she began documenting her tasty marvels on @thatcheeseplate as a creative outlet. As luck would have it, The Rachel Ray Show spotted her Insta handle and went nuts over her cheesy creations. They invited her onto the show and, well, the crowd went wild.

This past May she came to The Post to sign her new book, That Cheese Plate, which outlines and explains her Cheese By Numbers methodology so even the most charcuterie-fearing host or hostess can fromage like a hero.

Here are some of her tips:

With each plate I curate, I use the Cheese By Numbers method to cover the five main flavor profiles: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami.

Follow the key to build the plate in order of number, clockwise from the top of the plate. 

1—Cheese

2—Meat

3—Produce

4—Crunch

5—Dip

6—Garnish


Cheese: Cheese provides the most complex flavors to build upon. I always like to invest in high quality cheeses first. I usually feature three to five cheeses on my plates, which provides plenty of options for pairings. A variety of cheeses can consist of different milks (cow, goat, sheep, plant-based) and textures (hard, semi-hard, soft, fresh, bloomy).

Meat: I find that cured meats like salami, prosciutto, and soppressata, which are rich and savory, pair well with many cheeses, complementing the natural saltiness and fattiness.

You can also experiment with other flavor combinations, pairing cheese with meats like sausage, smoked salmon, and even grilled chicken!

Produce: Something like a briny cornichon will be able to cut through a rich cheese like a velvety raclette, while sweet, yet tangy raspberry will enhance the acidic lemon notes of a fresh goat cheese.

Crunch: I prefer simple salted crackers, since those with strong seasoning, such as garlic or onion, can overpower the flavor of the cheese. Nuts are a great addition as well, adding a fatty crunch to your bite, or acting as a smooth palate cleanser in between.

Dip: Adding something like honey or fig jam pairs wonderfully with many cheeses, making for a great contrast to the salty notes. Or if I’m in a savory mood, I play with the tangy elements on the plate, pairing a grainy mustard with an aged cheddar, for example.

Garnish: Fresh herbs and edible flowers can be the final beautiful detail on your cheese plate creation. For example, I’ll use fresh basil on a plate with mozzarella and tomato, or add some mint if I’m working with feta and fruit.

  • Create a spread where your guests don't have to do any serious cutting or chopping on their own. To accomplish this, I like to always pre-cut my hard cheeses and fold any charcuterie on the plate.
  • Stay away from sour candy. It sounds funny, but the amount of cheese boards I've seen on the internet with sour candy to make a "theme" for Easter or Halloween is alarming. The intensity of the sweet and sour candy completely drowns out the flavors of the cheese.
  • Another mistake is garnishing the cheese plate with toxic flowers. Always make sure flower garnishes are edible, like violas, pansies, nasturtiums, borage, chamomile and marigolds. 

(Editor’s note: Go to @thatcheeseplate for more ideas on creative flavor pairings, such as these with leftover Halloween candy:

Manchego + Reese's Peanut Butter Cups: Have you ever tried peanut butter cheesecake? That’s essentially what happens when you add Reese's in the mix. The result is sweet, nutty, and creamy.

Brie + Candy Corn: Cow’s milk Brie is mild, nutty, and fruity. These blend together to make a creamy marshmallow flavor experience.

Blue Cheese + Twix:  Twix was the perfect solution to balance the blue, providing caramel to bring out the sweet notes, and chocolate to contrast the spice and kick.)

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