Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Working Man's Cheese Board

The cheese board at Kraftwork 
I have been meaning to do a study of Philadelaphia cheese boards for a long time. This week, with a little incentive from Philly Homegrown, my tour starts here, at Kraftwork, a neighborhood pub that marries industry and artistry -- from its exposed brick interior to its wrench-handled cutting boards.

The cheese board at Kraftwork glorifies all things hand-hewn. The selections showcase artisan cheesemakers from around the U.S., and Chef Brian Lofink (formerly of Matyson, Sidecar) has enough heart to include at least two local stinkers each week.

It’s all part of what owner Adam Ritter had in mind when he opened Kraftwork earlier this year – a bar with communal tables and industrial touches that pay tribute to the Fishtown neighborhood’s industrial roots. Don't be surprised to see an enormous saw hanging over the bar, and table legs made from augurs.

“Everything here lends itself to community,” says Ritter (pictured above). “You can come in and share a cheese board, try a sampling of beers, order a plate of house-made charcuterie. Everything is designed to be shared.”

The cheese board is definitely worth a special trip up to the hinterlands of Fishtown. The selections are unusual – you won’t find these cheeses at the grocery – and Chef Lofink’s pairings are spot on, especially where nuts and cheese collide.

Local Buttercup Brie with spiced almonds

Here are the dairy blue prints from a recent Kraftwork expedition:

Cherry Grove Buttercup Brie (NJ) + paprika-spiced almonds

Hendricks Farm Monel (PA)+brandied cherries

Keswick Creamery Happy Jack (PA)+olive tapenade

Berkshire Blue (MA) + honeycrisp apples, clover honey, black pepper

Parmesan Flan

I can’t think of many cheese boards in Philadelphia that boast 5 selections, including an ethereal flan made from Parmesan rinds simmered in cream (a trick Lofink learned while working at Brasserie Perrier). Though the cheese selections change, the flan is always the centerpiece, and oh, it is a thing of beauty 

Here’s why I am Lady Gaga over this cheese board:

1.    It doesn’t shy away from robustness. The raw goat Monel flashes some major tang, and while this 2010 American Cheese Society winner might be too goat-tastic for some, the accompanying cherries temper the acidity and make this puck lovable. 

2.   Most of these cheeses, with the exception of Buttercup Brie, are made from raw milk. That means that the milk used to make the cheese is unpasteurized – I think that you can taste much more complexity in raw milk cheeses. Take the Berkshire Blue – wow! This is a blue cheese that will clear your sinuses. But it’s got subtle notes, too – imagine lichen and horse radish.

3.   There’s a progression to this cheese plate. Start with the softies (the Brie and the flan) and move into the heavies (Monel, Jack, then Blue). Textures build and flavors get more pronounced. Like any good cheese plate, this one offers variety on many levels.

I’ve eaten this cheese board 5 or 6 times now, and it’s consistently excellent, even as the selections change. The craft beers on tap also come and go, which means you can pair booze and cheese in all kindza ways. 

Gather some friends, order a couple cheese and charcuterie boards and you’ve basically got a meal for four. If you’re still hungry, there’s always a cheeseburger. 

Kraftwork burger with onion-bacon jam and Grafton 2-yr  Cheddar

Full disclosure: my cheese board was comped by Philly Homegrown, a web site that promotes local foods in and around Philadelphia.


  1. Again with the awesomeness! I may hit Kraftworks tomorrow night, visiting a friend in Fishtown. Maybe I'll stop over at Quince too. Definitely need to spend an afternoon at DiBruno's and Reading Terminal Market.

  2. You know it, Lakisha! Thanks for your recent comments.

  3. Very nice, Madame Fromage. You write and photograph so comprehensively that we feel like we're there, enjoying it, on a cold and sunny afternoon.

  4. Very awesome! Mike and I are looking for a few places to have some small nibbles at for our anniversary, so maybe we'll hit this place up.

  5. This is lovely. Thanks for spotlighting local CHEESE on Philly Homegrown!