Jewish Journal

A Healthier Shavuot: My Favorite Cheese Plate

by Elana Horwich

May 15, 2013 | 9:00 am

On Shavuot we Jews eat dairy - cheese blintzes, cheese kreplach, even cheesecake. Here's my idea. You don’t need to cook in order to feed your guests. Just choose the best quality items for a simple, yet fantastic, cheese plate.

Fyi, you only need to serve one type of cheese...if it is good, no one will be less happy. They will be thrilled that you chose a great one and that they get to eat it. Trust me.


Wood chopping block to put cheeses and jam on...and crackers and olives too if you can fit. The more knotted and rustic looking the better. But even if its just a plain old wood cutting board as I often use, it will look glamorously delicious once we get it all decorated with food!

Cheese: my favorites are always made from goat or sheep’s milk cheese but I have a few from cow milk that I also love for a cheese plate. You can always ask “the cheese guy” for a taste at any decent gourmet market.

  • Manchego (my go-to) - Sheep
  • Any Italian Sheep’s Milk Cheese, except Pecorino Romano - you want a touch less aged, i.e. softer...not super soft...but soft-er than Romano. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let it be. - Sheep
  • Humboldt Fog - Goat
  • Naked Goat - Goat
  • Drunken Goat - Goat
  • Boucheron - Goat Feta - Sheep’s Milk is my first choice or Cow’s Milk Feta
  • Sharp WHITE Cheddar (don’t ever buy orange cheddar and double don’t ever put it on a cheese plate! Milk is not orange!)

Fig Jam: (available at Whole Foods or other specialty shops) If you can’t find fig jam, use another high quality jam that you would never have put on a PB and J as a kid. You don’t want strawberry cheese...just a hint of sweet fruit with your cheese.

Raw Honey*: if you can’t find fig jam or if you prefer. Raw honey will support the flavor of the cheese...regular honey will ruin it.

Olives: from an olive bar at a specialty market (canned olives are cheap and taste cheap.) Put a little dish on the side for the pits! Crackers: there are many crackers that will go well, but far many more that won’t. Don’t use Ritz or any cracker you liked as a child. Look for a crispy, thin and rustic tasting cracker. My favorite: Mary’s Gone Crackers - Herb Flavor*

Wine: Go for a Chianti, Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, a Nebbiolo on a winter night, a Prosecco for a dry bubbly in summer or winter or a Sauvignon Blanc for a crisp nuanced white. Try D-Cantor Wines for online ordering of great wines at reasonable prices. Enter “elana” for free shipping under promotion code.

*You can buy these products online here.



You may be surprised to learn that, beyond being insanely delicious, cheese can actually be very beneficial for your health if you know what to choose. I grew up hating cheese, but I later learned that it wasn’t cheese that I hated. It was those slices of orange oil that we Americans call cheese. REAL cheese is not orange…do cows have orange milk? Real cheese is made from an age old process that farmers used to preserve and utilize their cow’s milk and is good for us in many ways. I group cheeses together here, but let it be known that other than Parmigiano Reggiano*, I prefer and use mainly sheep and goat milk cheeses as they are easier to digest and absolutely delicious. Cheese:

The Good…

  • contain all four fat-soluble vitamins A, E, K and D.
  • high in calcium.
  • cheese from grass-fed cows (Parmigiano Reggianno* and many French cheeses) contains high levels of CLA, a cancer-fighting, fat-reducing fat. (Is this why the French are so thin?)
  • sheep and goat milk cheeses are easier on the digestive system, even for people with lactose intolerance.
  • sheep and goat milk cheese are less likely to contain hormones and antibiotics.
  • raw milk cheeses can be high in Omega-3s.
  • includes Camembert which has natural probiotics, the same healthy immune-building bacteria found in yogurt.

The Bad…

  • causes the production of mucus which creates overall stagnancy in the body.
  • can aggravate all kinds of allergies.
  • can cause breakouts in some people.
  • can be high in cholesterol.
  • is hard to digest for many people, particularly those who suffer from lactose intolerance.
  • be careful with pizza and Mexican food; melted cheese can often cause more gas than unmelted.

*Watch video: Meal and a Spiel on Parmigiano Reggiano

If you live in LA and would like to take cooking classes with Elana, please visit mealandaspiel.com.

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Elana Horwich is the founder of Meal and a Spiel, a boutique Beverly Hills cooking school and online recipe resource based on the philosophy that anyone can learn to cook. Her...

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