Generally speaking, Boston College Dining has what it does down to a science. Little guessing is involved on the part of the hungry student—Thursday in the Rat always promises mac n’ cheese, there will always be the Chestnut Hill Grill to fall back on, and when it gets really ugly, Late Night is never too far off.
It’s a well-oiled machine that produces a wide spectrum of nutritious hot and cold foods (with an odd mozzarella stick in the mix) that we all depend upon. As an off-campus student who is continuously scrounging for Eagle Bucks, I know that this dependability and consistency is invaluable.
One peculiarity in the prepared food section, however, has continuously mystified me over the last three years, and I am sure I am not alone. Sitting unassumingly in refrigerators all across campus, the cheese tray is a puzzling collision of cheese and do-it-yourself food budgeting.
I’m sure that I am not the only patron who has encountered the unmistakable dilemma of the cheese tray—a horribly lopsided ratio of cracker to cheese that heavily favors the latter. As fond as I am of cheese, I am deeply troubled by this distinct lack of cracker. Despite many of my best efforts, it seems that there is never enough cracker to adequately complement the cheese. Ultimately, when the cracker runs out and I’m confronted with a mountain of cheese with no hope of starchy deliverance, I feel a bit like I have failed.
So I write here today not only for my own purposes of putting a responsible cheese rationing strategy into print, but also to assist with anyone else who feels that he or she has wrestled with this puzzle too many times. In brief, here is the best-prescribed method, component by component, for maximizing both cheese and cracker utility when eating a cheese tray.
First things first, let’s talk about the fruits and cheese tray miscellany. For the purposes of keeping this piece focused on the important stuff (cheese and crackers, obviously), we’re not going to take this extra cheese accoutrement into consideration. What you choose to do with the apples and grapes is up to you—whether you love them as a sweet complement to the savory flavors that dominate the tray or loathe them for being a distraction from the main event, use the fruit portion responsibly. If you further choose to make use of the piece of lettuce that lines the bottom of the tray, I respect the thoroughness, but that’s your business. To each his or her own, I guess.
On to the important stuff. You have three crackers, and it’s up to you to use them in a reasonable way. It would be easy to be lazy and/or wasteful with the first cracker. To simply put on a convenient amount of the Brie cheese and kiss it goodbye would be the first-timer thing to do. That’s not the life that we have chosen. This cracker will be daunting, but it really needs to be completely devoted to the Brie. This is a heavy one, and you are free to break it up however you’d like, but there is really no other way. It’s also important to use more than the amount of cheese you think is necessary per square centimeter of cracker. The last thing you want is to get to the last shard of the cracker confronted by a daunting amount of Brie. Use whatever you need to help wash down what promises to be a heavy cracker (might be a good time for the apples and grapes), but you’ve got to power through.
Moving forward, I think order is a little less important, but personally I always tackle the Baby Gouda second. This will probably be the most enjoyable cracker of the three, so cherish it. Slice the Gouda however you’d like and treat yourself. If you’re feeling ambitious, it is absolutely possible to ration the cracker and save a few fragments to make the onslaught of cheddar cubes a little more bearable, but this is up to you.
Finally, the third cracker to finish off the tray. The pile of mild white cheddar cheese before you is daunting, but you can do this—it’s all about self-control. The first bite should involve a stack of cheddar cheese that’s almost too tall for your jaws, just to knock out as much as possible. The cube sizes vary pretty wildly, but now is a good time to stack up some of the smaller pieces. When you get into the grind of distributing cracker to cube, you likely won’t be focused on the size of the cubes as much as you will the quantity of them per bite. Inevitably, after this first bite, the cracker will break into several pieces, and it becomes a matter of discipline with regard to picking up cheddar cubes. Feel free to be creative with how you spear, stack, or sandwich these cubes. Having a bit of fun with it will make the task of being excessively sparing with crackers that much more bearable.
As a final note on the process itself, I need to comment that there are few sensations more satisfying than the final bite of a well-executed cheese tray. If you’ve made it far enough that your last bite is a reasonable one (which is no small feat), congratulations—you deserve this. If you aren’t as fortunate, however, don’t despair. Whether the last bite is a near-miss, with a ratio that’s just a bit off, or you’ve failed altogether and are faced with a nearly-full plate of cheese, just know that this is not an exact science. These things happen. It’s just a matter of how we learn from them.
What makes this particular choice of prepared food unique is not the exquisite selection of cheeses, but rather the strategy involved. I’m convinced that when BC Dining put together the cheese tray, its intention was not simply to feed us but also to intellectually challenge us (hence, Eat. Drink. Talk. Think.).
So if the logistical issues of the cheese tray have plagued your mind for any period of time, I hope this piece managed to help to some degree. If this piece instead introduced a new existential element to your snacking, I genuinely apologize, but I’m prepared to defend this article as a wake-up call. Take this advice however you’d like, but if nothing else, never wish away another water cracker again.
Featured Image by Kelsey McGee / Heights Editor