Skip to main content

Marissa Mullen Transcript

From Stephen Colbert to Camembert: The Journey of a Cheese Board Queen

Kerry Diamond: Hey, everyone. Welcome to Radio Cherry Bombe, the number one female focused food podcast in the universe. I'm your host, Kerry Diamond, coming to you from Cherry Bombe World Headquarters, also known as my apartment in Brooklyn. I'm getting help today, or, rather, no help at all, from my rescue cat, Dusty. That's okay, because we have a great show planned.

Did you notice last year that cheese boards started appearing everywhere? If you thought 2019 was peak cheeseboard, you were wrong. We're nowhere near the peak. I know that because today's guest is Instagram cheese sensation Marissa Mullen, author of the new book That Cheese Plate Will Change Your Life. It's not hyperbole, folks. Stay tuned and find out how a cheese plate really did change her life. It's a fun and crazy journey that takes us from Steve Colbert to Camembert.

Before we get to Marissa, let's do a little housekeeping. If you're a Radio Cherry Bombe listener, you might not know that Cherry Bombe started as a magazine. Yep, a gorgeous print magazine featuring some of the most interesting women in the world of food. Visit our shop at to pick up the current issue, discover back issues, or subscribe.

Thank you to the wines of Rioja for supporting today's episode, and a special welcome to Cypress Grove, our newest Radio Cherry Bombe sponsor. Those folks make gorgeous cheese, and the company is female-founded, which you know we love. You'll hear more about the Cypress Grove story later in our show, and are you thinking what I'm thinking? Clearly, I need to organize myself a little Rioja Cypress Grove party. Maybe this weekend. We'll be right back after this word from Rioja.

Hi, Bombesquad. Let's go on a trip to Rioja, the premier wine making region in Spain that's home to more than 600 wineries. Rioja produces an incredible range of styles, reds, whites, rosés, and my favorite, sparkling wines. Tempranillo is Rioja's hallmark grape. Indigenous to Spain, Tempranillo is elegant and versatile and can be found in every expression of Rioja. Rioja's food-friendly wines pair beautifully with light bites, stand up to spice, and complement richer dishes.

What do I love most about Rioja? The wines are released when they are ready to drink. Every bottle of wine from Rioja is marked with a color-coded seal indicating how long it has been aged according to Rioja's unique aging classification system. Cheers to that. For more, visit

Now here's my conversation with Marissa Mullen, author of That Cheese Plate Will Change Your Life.

How did you come up with the cheese by numbers concept?

Marissa Mullen: So I've been making cheese plates for as long as I can remember. My mom and dad loved to entertain. My dad, he's a self-taught cook. So, growing up, we had a lot of different food flowing around in all these parties, family parties and whatnot. So I was always put on cheese plate duty as a kid. Whether it was cheese plates or arranging a cookie platter or crudités, I was always ... My mom's just like, "Marissa, you can do this."

I came from a very visual background. So I loved photography, videography. I actually studied music industry and communications in college, but cheese was always kind of this love that I had on the side. So I made That Cheese Plate in college in 2013 as a way to just document my cheese plate creations that I'd make with friends. We'd have wine and cheese parties. Every time I'd make a cheese plate, I realized that I built it in the same order every time. So me coming from this visual learning art background, I kind of blended that with a paint by numbers map like you'd see when you're a kid. Instead of colors, the numbers were actually items on a cheese plate. So one is cheese. Two is meat. Three is produce. Four is crunchy items. Five is dip. Six is garnish.

A friend of mine who I worked with ... When I graduated college, I worked at the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and a friend of mine there was an illustrator as a hobby. She used to illustrate all these doodles for Colbert's Instagram. So I asked her one day if she could draw a cheese plate for a tote bag that I wanted to produce. So she illustrated one of my cheese plates, and I was like, "This is the perfect cheese map. It's the Cheese By Numbers map." So we threw numbers on it, and that was kind of the first iteration of it.

Kerry Diamond: I love that. It's so clever. When you go through that Instagram account and you just swipe through the carousel, you just can't be struck by how clever you are to have come up with that. It's one of those things that's so simple, but it took somebody like you to bring it to life.

Marissa Mullen: Yeah, it's funny because... So the swipe to build, which I call it, kind of the carousel swipe, that was, again, sort of an accident, because, at the time, cheese by numbers were these maps, and I was trying to... Basically, the concept of cheese by numbers and having my illustrator make all these maps was to put together my very first book proposal back in 2017, which didn't work out at the time.

Kerry Diamond: Tell us why it didn't work out, only because it's encouraging to people, because you do have a book coming out. It's good for folks to know. I think when you hear, "This person has a book. This person has a book," you can be like, "Oh." It's so discouraging. But you don't just get handed a book deal.

Marissa Mullen: No, no, no. It is a very difficult process. At the time, I was working at The Late Show with Jon Batiste. He's the band leader. So I was working in the music industry, traveling a ton, still doing this Instagram on the side, just because it was truly a passion project of mine. Making cheese plates has always been this way for me to decompress after a crazy work day, and it's one of those activities for me where time sort of slips away. It just nourishes you... I always wanted to write a cookbook about cheese plates, because they're A, so beautiful, and B, there's so much that goes into a cheese plate to talk about.

It was 2017. I was home for Christmas break, and I just had this idea. For the first time in the longest time, I had free time to actually think, and I was like, "You know what? That would be really cool to write a book. I wonder how I could do this." I texted a friend of mine who has a book out, not about food at all, just a book in general. She was the only person I knew who has a book. I asked her, "Hey, how do you write a book? How do you publish a book?"

She was nice enough to kind of show me the ropes, and she introduced me to her book agent. Typically, how it works ... It's funny because a lot of the publishing industry really connects to the music industry. So I feel like I was able to really understand kind of the process, because there are so many similarities, but, essentially, you need a book agent who puts together a proposal with you. Then you pitch this out to countless publishers to hope that someone wants to sign you a book deal.

So she introduced me to her agent, who actually lives in Brooklyn, and I met with her. I prepared this cute little PowerPoint presentation of my cheese plates. I actually found it the other day. It's really funny, because it's so simple. It was back when That Cheese Plate had about 20,000 followers. Cheese by Numbers, the Instagram didn't exist yet. I didn't teach a cheese class. I had barely any press. At the time, I was like, "Oh my gosh, this agent, she's interested. I'm going to get a book deal." I was so naive to think that.

But it was such a crazy learning curve, because I spent such a long time putting together this proposal. It was about 26, 27 pages. We pitched it out to yeah, 20 publishers. Every single person rejected it.

Kerry Diamond: Oh.

Marissa Mullen: Yeah. It was slow rejections, too. At first, there was one, two, and then 10 would come in. She's like, "I'm so sorry."

Kerry Diamond: Oh, that's rough.

Marissa Mullen: The main reason was because... Yeah, they were like, "We love the concept, Cheese by Numbers, but you don't have enough followers on Instagram, and you don't have any press behind you. So how can we ensure that this is marketable?" At the time, there weren't a lot of cheese plate books out on the market. There were a lot of cheese books out that really dove into cheese making and very into the artisanal cheese world, but not so much making a cheese plate, because the landscape of Instagram, at the time, in 2017, you did not see cheese boards everywhere you looked. It was a new idea. Cheese boards have always been there, but the style that I've built them in, it just wasn't really a thing yet.

So, luckily, this was just my passion project. I still had my full-time job. So I was disappointed, but I kind of used that as fuel to keep going. I'm a strong believer that with every failure comes growth. So I just kind of made the Cheese by Numbers Instagram in 2018, just to be like, "You know what? These publishers don't know what they're talking about. Cheese by Numbers is a great concept. I'm going to make this Instagram. I'll show them." Then I started teaching my cheese classes as well, because a big goal of mine was to make this Instagram something that's tangible, something that you can do in person and do with your friends.

So the Cheese by Numbers method, basically, these cheese maps, my illustrator couldn't illustrate as many as I was making. So I'd sent her all these photos of cheese plates, and she's like, "Marissa, I have a full-time job, too. I can't be illustrating five a week for you." So I realized, "Okay, well, I'm going to do this thing called swipe to build and basically make this six-step process into an easy thing that you can swipe on Instagram." That kind of took over the cheese maps, in a sense.

So because it was so much easier for me to just snap six photos, edit them together, put them on Instagram, my illustrator didn't have to go through the work of illustrating everything. But then I put her to work with my book now, because she illustrated all 50 cheese plates.

Kerry Diamond: That's amazing. What a great story. In less than three years' time, you built up all those Instagram accounts. You've got over 400,000 combined followers, and you've got a book that's out right now.

Marissa Mullen: Yeah. It's insane. It's crazy. Thinking back, the growth really happened once I started putting Cheese by Numbers to use, because I think that method really took something... I mean, so many things on Instagram seem so intangible, in a sense, because it's like you see this beautiful recipe or this beautiful cheese plate, and you don't know where to start to build it. You're like, "That's unobtainable. That's Instagram." But Cheese by Numbers takes it and breaks it down into sections. That's so easy to replicate, and so I think providing this service for free for people to just, "Here's a grocery list. This is how you build it," plain and simple, it really resonated.

In November of 2018, I got an email from the Rachael Ray Show, and they reached out. They said, "Hey, we found Cheese by Numbers on Instagram. We'd love to have you on the show." This is continually a thing where people find Cheese by Numbers and don't know about That Cheese Plate, and I feel hurt about it, because I'm like, "That Cheese Plate was the original. Come on. Back That Cheese Plate." But, at the same time, I'm like, "They're both me. So it's the same thing."

Kerry Diamond: So Rachael Ray was a big place to debut, and she's a blast.

Marissa Mullen: She's amazing. It was so much fun. They didn't want to talk about That Cheese Plate, because it was too confusing with these two Instagrams. At the time, I didn't really plan on Cheese by Numbers being anything big, because it was at about 2,000 followers when Rachel Ray reached out. But then I went on the show and we did a little segment together, and overnight, it went up to 15,000 followers. So I was like, "Okay, well now I have two cheese accounts, and I need to figure out how they're going to work together instead of having all these followers dispersed in different places."

Kerry Diamond: Go back to when you were a little kid. You said your mom would have you do these boards and cheese plates because your family entertains a lot. Do you remember what your favorites were when you were little?

Marissa Mullen: Thinking back to when we had parties and started entertaining, I was a big sharp cheddar fan. I really like the sharp cheeses. Also, I remember eating... This is so funny, but I think I was probably 12 or 13. I remember eating aged gouda and tasting the tyrosine crystals, the little crunch in there, and thinking to myself, "Wow, this cheese, I don't know what this is, but this is not American cheese, and it's so good." I mean, at the time, I had no idea really what it was, but that crunch, I will remember forever, from being 12 years old.

But then once I got into high school and my dad started cooking more, he works from home, and he kind of picked up cooking as this hobby and went full-on into it, making his own pasta and just doing all these fun small dishes. He really introduced me to the world of artisanal cheese, and so he would get Mt. Tam by Cowgirl Creamery, which is still one of my favorites, which is a cow's milk Camembert style.

Kerry Diamond: I have that in my fridge right now, actually.

Marissa Mullen: It's amazing. Then La Tur, which is one that ... It's so decadent. It's basically just this ... It's hard to explain, but super, super gooey, creamy cheese that we'd put on crackers with fig jam. Then that kind of opened up my eyes to the world of artisanal cheese, and one of my very first gateway cheeses into the artisanal world in college was Humboldt Fog, which I think is a fan favorite for a lot of people.

Kerry Diamond: Absolutely.

Marissa Mullen: That's when I started learning that I loved soft ripened goat cheeses. So I feel like it's every cheese that I tried opened up this whole new world of a different style that I didn't even know existed, because I'm not a cheesemonger, And I do want to ... I would love to go to cheesemonger training school eventually, because I feel like I've learned just from talking to cheesemongers, from going to dairy farms, from being around cheese so much, but there's just so much more to learn. It's like the world is mine. It's like there's so many different styles and history and culture that just ties into the entire cheese world, and it's just fascinating to me.

Kerry Diamond: Have you been able to go around and visit some of the different cheesemakers?

Marissa Mullen: Yeah. So as being a what they call cheese plate influencer, quote unquote ...

Kerry Diamond: I think at some point we had a list at Cherry Bombe called cheesefluencers.

Marissa Mullen: Oh my gosh. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: I'm like, "That's the worst word."

Marissa Mullen: That is my title.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah.

Marissa Mullen: Because I am a cheese plate influencer, I get to go on cheese press trips, which has been the best. So last summer, I went to Sonoma. We did a wine and cheese trip, where I wasn't on the press trip, but I was a stop on the press trip. So whoever went stopped with me, and I did a cheeseboard workshop with California Cheeses. They were like, "Okay, yeah, after you teach the workshop, you're done. You can go home." I was like, "Well, what's on the schedule for tomorrow?" They're like, "Oh, we're visiting dairy farms." I'm like, "Can I stay?" They're like, "Sure."

So I jumped on the press trip, and we went to Point Reyes, which was awesome. We only went to the facility there, not the farm, which I would love to see the farm, because I hear it's beautiful. Then we went to Nicasio Dairy, which is beautiful, up on a hill, looking over this amazing farm that was owned by families for decades. Then I've been to Wisconsin, where I went to Uplands Farm, which is another beautiful farm run by Andy Hatch. They just love their animals so much, and they do rotational grazing so the cows are grazing on fresh grass every day.

Seeing that process, the behind the scenes, you just see how much hard work goes into farming, first of all, and how much hard work goes into cheesemaking. You need to be so on it with the health of your animals and then the temperature, humidity control of your aging rooms and the style cheese that you're doing. How long does it need to age for? Just being there firsthand and learning all of that, being able to see it, again, for me, just being a visual person, it really clicked and just made such a difference with me, where I'm like, "You know what? I need to really, really make an effort with this platform to talk about local dairy farms and to talk about the art behind cheese."

Kerry Diamond: Why was 2019 just this year where the everything board exploded?

Marissa Mullen: So I don't want to say that I started the trend, because I don't know if I did, but it lined up with this crazy press boom that I had where after Rachael Ray, I was on The Today Show and talking about cheese plates on The Today Show. Then, after that, I was in a Vox article and then Refinery29 and then Poosh and then-

Kerry Diamond: Poosh? You were even on Poosh?

Marissa Mullen: I was on Poosh, which is very mainstream. It just skyrocketed into the mainstream world. But I did a lot, a lot of press last year in all of the markets.

Kerry Diamond: So, Marissa, what you're saying is we can blame you. That's what you're saying.

Marissa Mullen: Well, so I don't know, because I honestly live in a bubble, and I'm so out of touch with trends, to be honest. I haven't watched Tiger King. I don't know what's going on. I'm in my own world. But I have seen so many cheese plate accounts pop up over the past year who follow me. So I feel like because the Cheese by Numbers method made building a cheese plate so easy, it kind of encouraged people to try it out.

Marissa Mullen: Yeah, I think, especially with the holidays that came around, cheese plates in general are a popular thing at holidays, but now that people can make these Instagram-worthy cheese boards so easily, I feel like that definitely helped the trend boom.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. So we'll give you the credit. We won't make you take the blame. How about that?

Marissa Mullen: Okay, perfect. That's great.

Kerry Diamond: But it is interesting. I mean, you can apply it to so many other categories of food, cookies, candy, et cetera. charcuterie, of course, has been around forever, but it was really interesting to see with every new holiday that came how people were doing different kinds of boards. I even saw instead of Easter baskets, people were doing Easter candy boards, which I thought was really clever.

Don't go anywhere. We'll be right back with Marissa after this quick word from Cypress Grove.

If you don't know the story behind Cypress Grove, the leading producer of delicious American goat cheese, well, grab a cheese board and gather round. It involves a mom on a mission and a herd of goats.

Mary Keene, the founder of Cypress Grove, wanted fresh goat's milk for her children, so she wound up with some goats and more goat's milk than she knew what to do with. Mary taught herself how to make cheese and helped kick off an artisanal cheese making revolution in the US.

Fast forward. Today, Cypress Grove is an international award-winning cheese maker that promotes humane goat dairying, is still proudly based in California, and is known for its gorgeous cheeses, like one of my absolute favorites, Humboldt Fog, the distinctive soft ripened goat cheese.

Want to try Cypress Grove for yourself? Call your favorite cheese shop or visit the cheese counter at your local grocery store. You can also visit for store locations, perfect cheese pairings, and more. Back to my conversation with Marissa Mullen.

You even mentioned before we started recording French fry boards.

Marissa Mullen: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: Tell us what a French fry board is.

Marissa Mullen: Yeah. So I saw this recently. A fry board, it's basically you put different types of French fries on a board with different dipping sauces. So there's tater tots, curly fries, shoestring fries, which I don't really understand, because the beautiful thing about cheese is that you leave it out and it gets better when you leave it out. You're supposed to leave cheese out for about an hour before you serve it for the maximum flavor. But with fries, they'll just get cold and soggy, so you really have to eat it right away.

Kerry Diamond: I won't lie. I wouldn't mind having a fry board. I do like different things to dip my fries into.

Marissa Mullen: Oh, yeah. I mean, French fries are definitely my second favorite food, behind cheese.

Kerry Diamond: What's your condiment of choice when it comes to fries?

Marissa Mullen: Ooh, I really like, I mean, ketchup and mayo together. They do it in Europe a lot. It's one of my favorite combos. I'm a big aioli fan, too.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. Fancy.

Marissa Mullen: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: I do like mayo. I like mayo with my fries. I always ask for a little.

Marissa Mullen: So good.

Kerry Diamond: So let's talk about your day job. So did you quit your day job?

Marissa Mullen: I did. Yes. So I quit my day job almost a year ago from today, actually.

Kerry Diamond: When you said, "Stephen Colbert, I'm leaving you to go make cheese plates," what did he say?

Marissa Mullen: So I scheduled a meeting with him to tell him, and he's such a great guy, one of the most amazing bosses. Knows everyone's name. Nothing bad to say about him. I was like, "Stephen, so I have this Instagram, this project. I'm writing a book now. It's this thing." He was like, "Cheese plates? Huh." Then he goes into a 15-minute monologue about how he makes a cheese plate.

Kerry Diamond: Oh my God. I wish you recorded that.

Marissa Mullen: It was hilarious, and I was showing him the Cheese by Numbers map. He's like, "Oh. Oh, so you're putting fruit on there, too. Oh, you're putting rosemary sprigs. Okay." It was so funny. But yeah, he definitely supported it, and Jon Batiste, who I worked directly with for the longest time, we went on tour together. So I was the house band assistant at The Late Show and then got promoted to house band coordinator. So I basically was the coordinator for the band on The Late Show, and then I ended up working for Jon Batiste outside of the show as well, for his management company. So I would go on tour with him and tour manage him on the road, as well as run his social media. I directed music videos for him. We kind of were just this creative duo, which was a lot of fun, because we got to do a lot of fun projects together.

But he supported this 100%, and we would be in random cities. We were in Wisconsin this one time for a show, and I was like, "Jon, there's this crazy cheese shop here. We have to go." I'd bring him with me to the cheese shop. So he always knew that this was a thing that I had on the side, but I don't think either of us really expected it to take over and for me to leave my job in music. It's funny, with the timing of everything, because when I got rejected by all these publishers, I was just so, so busy working literally two jobs at The Late Show and then with Jon Batiste off The Late Show, and I really didn't have the time to stop and write a book, because that just takes so much energy, so much time.

But when I got my book deal last April, I was at this point in my job where I was a personal assistant for four years. I was ready for that next step. I didn't know where I wanted to go. I thought I still wanted to work in music, but there was no place to really grow in Jon's company. So I was at this crossroads where I just was kind of ready for the next thing. Then, all of a sudden, this opportunity came to be, and it gave me that leap of faith to be like, "You know what? Now's the time. It wasn't the time before. It's the time now. I can feel it. Follow your intuition," and I quit, which a lot of people were like, "Why are you leaving The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for cheese plates?" I'm like, "Guys, trust me." I'm like, "I think it will be good."

But it just felt really good to follow something that was and is a passion of mine, seeing something that I created from the ground up in college and having it be such an amazing place for inspiration for other people. I knew that it was something that I had to do for myself to really express my creativity to the fullest.

Kerry Diamond: So you got Stephen Colbert's blessing. I remember ... I don't know when this was, but there was an episode when someone gifted him his head made out of cheese. Were you there for that?

Marissa Mullen: I do remember that. Oh, what was that?

Kerry Diamond: Were they like, "Somebody get Marissa in here"?

Marissa Mullen: Yeah. Well, actually, they used me a few times, because there was a scene once with Cheech & Chong, and they were talking about how unpasteurized cheese is illegal in the US. They're like, "Legalize unpasteurized cheese," in the Cheech & Chong voice. They're like, "We need a cheese plate for them to hold up," and the props department Slacked me. They're like, "Marissa, can you make a cheese plate in the next hour?" They let me go to the store and buy all the ingredients, and I made a cheese plate for them. It premiered on the show, which was great.

Kerry Diamond: That is the most random story ever.

Marissa Mullen: Super random. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: But hey, you made a cheese plate for Cheech & Chong, So there you go.

Marissa Mullen: I did. Yeah, I did.

Kerry Diamond: So aside from having the book deal and a base on Instagram that was increasing all the time, you must've had a few other things in place to have the security of leaving a full-time job. Were you getting sponsors at the time? Were your classes getting more and more popular? How were those things going?

Marissa Mullen: Yeah. So with my business, I make a lot of my income from Instagram, from sponsored posts. So I've created a network of a lot of cheese connections, honey. The thing about cheese plates is there's so many items on a cheese plate, and so all of these companies have reached out to me, so companies who represent cracker brands, honey brands, jam brands, cheese, charcuterie, boards themselves, ramekins. I sprinkle in my sponsored content here and there, enough to pay my rent, and those opportunities sort of grew as the brand started growing. So last year, I did a partnership with Whole Foods, and I did one with Aldi.

Kerry Diamond: What is Aldi?

Marissa Mullen: Aldi is a supermarket chain. They started in Europe, but they're opening new places here. Yeah. It's kind of like a Trader Joe's-esque, but I also signed to... So when I signed my book deal, since I did it without... Oh, because I forgot this part. So my agent ended up dropping me after I got rejected by all the publishers, so I didn't have an agent at this point, which, again, you sort of need an agent in order to get a book deal. But after I was on The Today Show, I got an email directly from The Dial Press, which is an imprint of Random House, and they're a new imprint. It's all about inspiring female stories. So they emailed me, and they said, "Hey, have you ever thought to write a book?" I was like, "Yes, actually, I have."

So I met with Cleo from The Dial Press, and she was like, "I love this concept. I really think this could be a great book idea. Do you have an agent?" I was like, "Well, no, I don't, but I'm open to finding one." So I sort of did the book thing backwards, because I got offered a deal, but then had to find an agent, because you can't really do all the logistics and the contracts yourself with a publisher. There's just so much going on with that that it's helpful to have an agent in the whole process of writing a book.

So I ended up interviewing agents instead of them interviewing me and signed with William Morris last year. So with WME, they're such a massive organization. So when I signed with them for my book deal, they were like, "Okay, well, here's your endorsements agent, and here's your podcast agent. Here's your TV, film agent." I was like, "Oh, okay, well, I guess this is going to be something bigger than a book, and that's cool. I'm down. Let's go." So they've been helping a lot, too, just kind of bringing in new opportunities for me with cheese.

Kerry Diamond: That's great. So do you have a podcast in the works or a TV show in the works?

Marissa Mullen: I have a TV show in the works. Can't say much about it yet, but we just finished the pitch deck. So that's exciting. Then I have a really fun product line coming out in 2021 that I can't really talk about yet, either, but it's going to be great.

Kerry Diamond: Ooh. Okay. Well, we're very excited for that. Let's talk Cheese by Numbers for a little bit, and let's walk people through sort of a taste of your book, what they'll discover in the book. If you had to pick your absolute favorites to put a cheese plate together, and you don't have to pick your favorite cheese, because I know that's probably impossible for you. But what's a great starter cheese plate that's still pretty impressive?

Marissa Mullen: Yeah. So a basics cheese plate. So I will pick my favorite cheeses, just because got to show them love. I love Vermont Creamery Cremont. It is a soft ripened goat cheese. I love all Vermont cheeses. I feel like they've got something going on up there. Jasper Hill is amazing. But yeah, so probably a soft ripened goat cheese. So when you make a cheese plate, you want a variety of cheeses, so whether that's cow's milk, goat's milk, sheep's milk, or hard soft stinky, you just want to kind of represent all of the different styles of cheese out there. So I'd say do a soft ripened goat cheese, do maybe a Gruyère or an aged cheddar for your sharper cheese, and then throw a bleu or a washed rind cheese on there, so something a little bit stinky. That way, you can kind of get all the different flavors going.

Then step two in Cheese by Numbers is meat. So I coined this term called the salami river, which represents meat flowing down the center of a plate.

Kerry Diamond: Love it.

Marissa Mullen: Yeah, this is a stylistic choice. You don't have to do the salami river. If you don't eat meat, you can do a cucumber river, whatever you want. But this in the Cheese by Numbers method is kind of the staple for that nice focal point in the center. So I like to use Genoa salami or soppressata. Those are kind of my favorites. I feel like cheese and charcuterie are best friends. When you're pairing, you either want to do polar opposite flavors or similar, so the salty and fattiness of cured meats and cheese just go really, really well together. So that's kind of my cheese and meat combo. I also like prosciutto. Prosciutto's a great choice.

Yeah. That's kind of like the starter pack. We can go into a more advanced one with sautéed turkey sausage, but we won't do that right now.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. You mentioned if you don't eat meat, there are also, well, those fruit nuts salamis that they call them. They're basically just in the shape of a salami.

Marissa Mullen: Yeah. So there's this amazing fig salami from Hellenic Farms, and they make all... I think they make like seven different flavors of fig salami. I actually have in my book the figlami river plate, which features this fig salami instead of salami.

So then step three of Cheese by Numbers is produce. So this is sort of the stack where you can tie in color, and produce is a great pairing for cheese because it doesn't overpower. So something like a cucumber or a blueberry or raspberry, it has sweetness, or fruit has sweetness to it, but it won't overpower a cheese. Then the same thing with vegetables. They kind of have a neutral flavor. So I sometimes use cucumbers as a healthy cracker option, because it just has that crunch to it.

But for produce, I feel like this really ties in the element of color, so like painting with your produce. So I like to do a selection of berries. So you can do raspberries, blackberries, blueberries. I love dried fruit and cheese, like dried apricots, dried figs. Fresh figs are great as well. Then you can go into the more briny items, so Castelvetrano olives are great. Cornichons are great. So this part of Cheese by Numbers, step three, covers everything that is a fruit/vegetable item on the plate.

Then we go into step four, which is crunch. So crunch basically is everything that is crunchy that is not a fruit or vegetable, so crackers, bread, nuts. You can do dark chocolate if you're making a dessert plate. That will go under the crunch section. My favorites, I love using flatbread crackers. Those are Firehook. They're a great company based out of D.C.. They're some of my favorites. I also love a fresh sourdough bread. If you're using a creamy cheese, that's always good.

Then with nuts, you can kind of sprinkle in. You fill in the gaps with the nuts. So I like using almonds. Marcona almonds are really good. You could do cashews, macadamia nuts, kind of whatever you're feeling in the moment.

Kerry Diamond: Those are all very rich nuts. So you like those with cheese?

Marissa Mullen: Yeah. I like the rich nuts, because I feel like they... Again, kind of with the fattiness of the charcuterie and the fattiness of the cheese, these nuts kind of tie in that richness, whereas the produce balances it out with some more lighter flavor, just a more healthy balance to all of the fattiness on the plate.

Kerry Diamond: Marconas are so good.

Marissa Mullen: Oh, they're amazing. They're just doused in olive oil. It's the best. So good. Pistachios are also great, but always have a little bowl on the side for your shells. So that's kind of the crunch section, which is step four.

Step five is dips. So on a basic cheese plate, for starters, my go-to favorite is fig jam. I think fig jam is such a nice contrast for a salty, fatty cheese. Any sort of jam works, but the flavor of fig jam isn't too overpoweringly sweet, like something like a strawberry or a raspberry jam. I also really like red pepper jelly. That's really good. Quince paste is a great option as well. Then, again, if you're going for something more savory, mustard goes really well with a lot of different cheeses. Whole grain mustard is really great. So that's when you fill in your dip items. Oh, also honey. Honey is one of my favorites to pair with goat cheese or blue cheese.

Kerry Diamond: I love honey and cheese.

Marissa Mullen: So good, and that's where we kind of tie in the polar opposite tasting notes, whereas we've got the charcuterie and cheese, which is the same, and then you go left field with something really sweet to tie in that whole sweet and salty.

Then the last step is called garnish, and this is the step that you don't eat, but it's more of just the cherry on top. So I love to garnish my cheese plates with fresh herbs. They smell amazing. They look amazing. It kind of just elevates your cheese plate to that next level. So I use fresh rosemary. If I'm doing a plate with mozzarella and tomato, I'll do basil as a garnish. If I'm doing a springtime plate with strawberries, I'll do mint as a garnish. This just really kind of paints the whole picture of your cheese plate to make it look very full and abundant.

I've been playing around with edible flowers lately, which has been really fun, too, just learning about that whole world of edible flowers. So I love using pansies, marigolds. Luckily, where I am right now, my mom has a garden, and we're starting to grow some. I actually just planted an herb garden and got some edible flowers in there. So patiently waiting for them to grow. But that just kind of puts the nice little finishing touches on your plate.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, that's so nice. It's amazing. You've just made it so easy to follow, which is why you have a book coming out and you're so popular, but you've just really demystified the whole process and just made it so that everybody can put a beautiful cheese plate out there. So it's so much fun.

Marissa Mullen: Yeah. It's almost like when you're painting. It's like Bob Ross painting tutorials. You know those? That's what it kind of reminds me of, because it's like you're just going step by step. Just follow the steps, and you'll make a beautiful cheese plate painting that you can eat.

Kerry Diamond: You are the Bob Ross of cheese. There are worse things to be known as, right? Before we let you go, I want to talk about any of your cheesemonger friends and cheese maker friends and just if you know how that community is doing right now.

Marissa Mullen: Yeah. So they are struggling right now, and it is really tough. I mean, a lot of the artisanal cheese companies rely on restaurants for buying a lot of their cheese, and because restaurants aren't really functioning right now, there's a whole gap in the market. A lot of these farms are actually forced to dump their milk.

Kerry Diamond: That's been so sad, seeing that on the news. I just can't believe.

Marissa Mullen: So sad. Yeah. Right now, it's the spring. It's the most amazing goat milk. There's just so much amazing milk right now because of the temperature and the climate. But yeah, they've had to dump milk. People are really, really struggling, and what I did on Instagram is I just launched a local cheese challenge. So basically what this is is encouraging people to shop at their local cheese shops, shout out to Fairfield Cheese, where I am, and support their local cheese shops, because, at these cheese shops, they source amazing cheeses from these small batch producers, from these local farms, and then you can also buy cheese online, where a lot of these farms are putting their cheese up that you can just order for shipping. I actually have resources on my Instagram for that. A lot of different farms are doing online shipping as well as doing cheese boxes.

So Old Chatham Creamery is actually doing one called the cheese care package, and it comes with a variety of cheeses from their farm as well as from the local farms around there. So that's another great option, too. You can order these delivery boxes. I believe Cowgirl Creamery is also doing one with their types of cheeses in a box that you can order. So there's a lot of different options out there to support the local creameries, and I'll continue to update my website with more resources I find.

Kerry Diamond: Marissa, thank you so much for all your time and for walking us through how to make a beautiful cheese plate. Tell us about your book one more time.

Marissa Mullen: Yes. So That Cheese Plate Will Change Your Life, it is out on May 12th, and it is 50 different cheese plates for all different occasions, how to build them, including some recipes to elevate your cheese plates, and walks you through the cheese by numbers method to build the perfect cheese plate every time.

Kerry Diamond: I love it. I'm ready for my life to be changed by a cheese plate.

That's it for today's show. Thank you to Marissa Mullen, author of That Cheese Plate Will Change Your Life, out now. Be sure to order a copy from your favorite indie bookstore. You can follow Marissa on Instagram @thatcheeseplate and @cheesebynumbers. I'll be taking part in Marissa's local cheese challenge on Instagram to support our artisanal cheese makers across the country, and I hope you do, too. Thank you to the wines of Rioja and Cypress Grove Cheese for supporting this show. Radio Cherry Bombe is edited by Kat Garelli. Our theme song is All Fired Up by the band TraLaLa. Hang in there, everybody, and thank you for listening. You are the bomb.

When Harry Met Sally Clip: I'll have what she's having.

Sarah Hendrix: Hi. My name is Sarah Hendrix, and I'm the cofounder of Lady & Larder cheese shop in Los Angeles. Do you want to know who I think is the Bombe? Helen Johannesen, owner of Helen's Wines, also here in Los Angeles, because she's extremely knowledgable, has incredible taste, and knows how to make wine fun and accessible.