By Kylie Meyermann

During the holidays some people tend to shy away from the elaborate cheese plate, which I have never quite understood.

A cheese plate is simple to assemble, and if done properly it can awe inspire disenchanted guests.

Cheese does not require any time braising in the oven or marinating in the Crock Pot. Julienning or mashing skills are not a prerequisite. Heck, many of the old customs and etiquettes have long been forgotten and a host must no longer possess an assortment of cheese knifes or cleavers to properly serve cheese. A cutting board and butter knife will do just fine.

A cheese plate requires some innovative thinking. As previously discussed in Kylie’s Cheesucation, there is a magical formulation required in order to make a buzz worthy cheese plate. Especially a seasonal cheese plate designed for a weekend of gorging and prompt  culinary extravagance.

My advice for achieving the holiday cheer : think outside the basin of olives and store packaged porchetto.

Let your imagination run wild … literally!

1. Wild Game 

While it may not look appetizing, Elk Jerky will definitely spur a conversation. The meat is heavy, dense and looks like a well chewed dog bone, but what it lacks in appeal it makes up for in flavour and unique texture. Unlike many other varieties of smoked jerky, elk jerky is made up of a large percentage of fat. The dry meat, which after close inspection is adorned with dehydrated chilli flakes and peppercorns, is malleable thanks to the tendons of soft, succulent fat etched throughout the jerky. Elk jerky makes an interesting alternative to the lean Italian charcuterie that often accompanies the classic cheese plate.

Elk jerky can be found at many of the gourmet food markets across Toronto. The particular elk jerky pictured above, was discovered at the St. Lawrence Market.

2. Le Douanier Cheese, Quebec

With its signature central layer of maple wood ash, Le Douanier is a semi-soft cheese that match’s superbly with elk jerky – or any spicy, dehydrated meat. Its aroma is mild and creamy, with a slight barnyard finish on the nose. The texture is smooth and supple with a characteristic tangy quality that lingers on the palate.

Le Douanier was crafted by master cheese maker Fritz Kaiser in 2000 and won the Grand Champion award at the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix in 2004. It’s a cheese that Sue Riedl of the Globe and Mail affectionately nicknamed ‘Mellow Yellow‘.

3. Gris Bleu, Goat and Cow Milk, Quebec

The helpful gentlemen at Alex Farm Products were only too eager to share with me this tasty and unique cheese. Gris Bleu is a decadent layering of succulent goat cheese and tangy, blue-ribboned cows milk. Gris Bleu is an incredible combination of smooth and citrus that will leave you wondering why all cheeses aren’t layered to perfection.

4. Tomme de Haute Richelieu, Quebec

Le Tomme Haut Richelieu is a goat’s milk cheese fashioned after a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese. It fouled me at first. Its dense appearance and chalky colour is reminiscent of many semi-soft cow’s milk cheeses crafted in Nova Scotia. While the cheese first envelops the palate in an earthy thickness, it soon transpires into a fresh, sweet cheese or lilac and moist grass.

A rich, velvety red wine, a Stone Mill Cinnamon Raisin Baguette and a handful of late harvest, Ontario raspberries and you have yourself a cheese plate that breathes the cool fall air.

Don’t shy away from the cheese plate, I promise that you will be pleasantly surprised with what you can serve without stepping foot in a hot kitchen.

Kylie Meyermann is a cheese and wine enthusiast. Follow her one twitter KyliesWines