Food & Drink

The Recommendation: Cheese Plates on Airplanes

Alaska Air fruit and cheese platter
Alaska Air fruit and cheese platter | Alaska Air
Alaska Air fruit and cheese platter | Alaska Air

Sometimes, after facing a 90-minute security line, a random TSA search, a gate change that’s actually in another terminal, handing over your carry-on because you’re in Boarding Group 340, waiting in another line on the jet bridge, shame-walking past first class passengers nestled into European mink blankets nursing scotches while angel investing in blockchain technologies, finding your middle seat in between an unaccompanied minor and a volatile Ambien sleeper, being told you’re in a weather delay as you sit on the tarmac, and discovering the airline magazine crossword has already been correctly completed, you deserve a f**king cheese plate.

I am, as the kids say in travel subreddits, an Airplane-Cheese-Plate-Head. I have had the Murray’s French Brie, Irish Cheddar, and Pecorino Calabrese with gala apple wedges and flatbread on Delta flights, and the Beecher’s Flagship with a Seattle Chocolates truffle on Alaska. I have sampled the Air Canada herbed havarti with lavash crackers and red grapes, and the JetBlue creamy Dutch Hollow Dulcet and "Jamaican Jerk-seasoned No Woman” with honey. I have delighted in the smoked Gouda from Gilman Cheese with oven-baked ParmCrisps and Copper Cowbell cheese spread on United. I have not had any Spirit Airlines cheese plates for reasons I'll leave unsaid because we're talking about nice things here, specifically cheese plates.

I’ve read the travel blogs and I’ve seen the healthy tips for eating on planes, and how you can bring your own purified water-filled Klean Kanteen, and make your own granola, and I’d like to remind folks -- you are on a goddamn plane, not hiking the Colorado Paint Mines. Our grandparents -- god rest most of their souls -- used to dress up for airplanes, because taking an airplane was a big, classy deal and also the Taft-Hartley Act wasn’t going to protest itself. But now you’re lucky if the gassy man next to you in the Life is Good mock turtleneck and cut-off pajama pants doesn’t take off his socks while watching late-series Charmed on his iPad.

The cheese plate, therefore, is my own tiny protest against the Panic Room-level state of chaos enveloping economy-class plane travel in the modern era, a simple stab at humanity in a sea of tumult. It is the airplane food equivalent of the band continuing to play as the Titanic sinks. Wait, maybe that’s a bad example.

The cheese plate, therefore, is my own tiny protest against the Panic Room-level state of chaos enveloping economy-class plane travel in the modern era

The logic behind ordering the cheese plate works like this:
Q: Where are cheese plates normally served?
A: In classy restaurants.
Q: So how does ordering a cheese plate on an airplane make you feel?
A: Also classy as hell.

I should say here I’m somewhat of a stickler for airplane-appropriate eating (unless I miraculously get bumped into first class, then all rules are out the window and I will eat whatever foie gras and caviar-topped ortolan breakfast bowl they put in front of me). Aside from sealed snacks, I really only order two things on airplanes -- peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cheese plates. Hot meats at 30K feet freak me out, wraps tend to be soggy and gross on the bottom where they’ve been pressed against the plastic container for hours, and if anyone thinks it's appropriate to open and consume canned tuna products on a plane, I believe they should be arrested by air marshals and extradited to Belarus.

The cheese plate has no strong odor. It is a finger food, so you don’t have to eat it all in one continuous act. It often contains grapes, which are high in antioxidants, which prevent chronic diseases. It often has multi-grain crackers, which are packed with B vitamins and high in fiber, which is fine to talk about because everybody poops. And it usually contains a high-quality chocolate as the digestif, which goes great with the glass of red wine you should also order.

The last time I was on a plane, I was flying back from Portland, Oregon, around 9pm on an Alaska Airlines flight. As soon as I was able, I got the Signature Fruit and Cheese Platter, and put on one of the many John Grisham movies I have permanently downloaded on my phone. As I enjoyed my two wedges of Beecher’s Flagship cheese, Brie and Tillamook Sharp Cheddar alongside grey salted crackers, fruit, and a glass of red wine, I could feel the gaze of the woman next to me. When I glanced at her, she said, “You look like you’re enjoying that cheese plate so much, I think I’m going to order one too!”

I smiled and nodded, and even though I was a little upset she’d interrupted one of the more sexually electric scenes in Grisham’s iconic The Pelican Brief, I felt like I had done my part to restore a little more dignity and pride to the experience of modern air travel. As I walked off the plane in San Francisco, that warm feeling stayed with me for about 20 minutes, until I discovered they’d lost my bag.

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Kevin Alexander is Thrillist’s National Writer-at-Large, Food. Talk to him about Grisham movie plot lines @KAlexander03.