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Late Nights and Cheese Plates

Marissa Mullen is a Brooklyn-based creative director, content creator, and all-around multi-hyphenate who previously worked as the house band coordinator for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. We chatted about her latest project, That Cheese Plate, which hosts dairy-centered workshops, and Marissa advises us on the perfect cheese plate arrangement.

You recently left a career in the music industry to work full-time on That Cheese Plate. How long was this transition in the works and what inspired you to make the leap?

The transition took a while, mainly because I was so torn between the music business and the cheese world. Music has been a passion of mine since a young age, and I spent the past 8 years building my connections and name in the industry. I had the initial thought of leaving in November, when I was featured on The Rachael Ray Show. The Instagram had picked up momentum, and I had a feeling that this would turn into something bigger than just a page dedicated to cheese. I was already teaching cheese-plate workshops in New York, but I had the idea to write a cookbook. Then 2019 rolled around and the press opportunities flowed in. I built cheese plates on The Today Show, was interviewed in Vox Magazine, and was featured in Departures, Food + Wine, and The Points Guy. As all of this was taking place, I received an email from Random House about a potential book. That was the moment when I knew I had to take this decision seriously. I ended up leaving my job in music about two months ago and currently am working on my first cookbook, That Cheese Plate Will Change Your Life, set to come out in early 2020. 

Talk us through “Cheese by Numbers.” How did you come up with the idea?

“Cheese by Numbers” is a step-by-step method for building a beautiful cheese plate every time. I’m a very visual person, and I realized that building cheese plates resembled a similar technique to the “paint by number” coloring books. My friend Sara Gilanchi illustrated a plate of mine, and we added numbers that correlated with each step in the process. The steps are as follows: 

Step 1: Cheese: Select a variety of cheese for your plate. I like to use different milk types or textures.

Step 2: Meat: Folding meat helps ensure easy grazing. I like to fold salami in a flowing pattern down the center of the plate—something I coined the “salami river.”

Step 3: Produce: Produce is an easy way to add color to the plate and not overpower it with intense flavors.

Step 4: Crunch: Crunchy items are key to fill in the gaps on the plate. I like using mixed nuts and crackers. Always have a separate cracker plate on the side for easy refilling. 

Step 5: Dips: Dips are a great item to pair with cheese. Fig jam is an ultimate favorite.

Step 6: Garnish: Add a sprig of rosemary or a few edible flowers to add a unique touch to the plate.

What would you say are the most overrated and underrated cheeses? 

This is a tough one because I love all cheese. I’d say the most overrated is brie. I love brie, but there are so many incredible gooey cheeses out there. For example, try Harbison from Jasper Hill. As for underrated cheese, I’d go with Parmesan. So many people only know parmesan from the plastic grated containers you find at the grocery store. If you ever try a nice piece of authentic Italian parmesan with some prosciutto, your tastes buds will thank you. 

Aside from the workshops at That Cheese Plate, where are the best places in NYC to grab a cheese plate? 

Beechers and Murray Cheese Bar are the go-to spots in Manhattan, both with excellent selections of cheese and meat. I’m a Brooklynite, so I love Tuffet, Brooklyn Larder, and Covenhoven! 

When you have visitors in town, where do you like to take them?

We’ll walk to the nearest cheese shop and grocery store, buy a fun assortment, pick up a bottle of wine and make a plate at home. There’s nothing like creating a cheese plate for yourself and friends to enjoy!