A good cheese tastes better if it’s allowed to warm up before being served. Keeping cheese in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic until the moment it’s served keeps it from molding, but doesn’t allow the full flavor to develop. A covered cheese dish is a way to give cheese time to come to room temperature while protecting it and keeping it from drying out. It also makes for an elegant presentation. And if you like baked brie, the covered cheese dish can be used for both baking and serving it.
1 Create a 10-inch-wide disk. Form an 8-inch diameter raised ring, flatten and thin the outer edge, then pull the ring to ½ inch tall.
2 Push the pointed end of a wooden knife tool under the edge of the plate to lift it.
3 Thin the outer rim of the plate and pull it up, leaving a groove between the rim and the ring.
4 Use a pair of calipers to measure the outside edge of the inner ring.
A covered cheese dish is basically a plate with an inverted bowl for a lid. Adding a little lip to the plate just inside the lid will hold it in place. I throw both pieces from white stoneware, using 2 pounds of clay for the plate and 3 pounds for the lid to make a dish that will hold a 6-inch diameter brie cheese.
Throwing the Plate
Start by centering and flattening out the 2-pound piece of clay to form a 10-inch diameter disk that is inch thick. Now, starting at the center of the disk, use the heel of your palm to push a ring of clay out almost to the rim, building it up like a wave of clay as your hand moves outward (1). Inside this ring, the base of the dish should now be about –3⁄8 inch thick. The ring of clay should be around 8 inches in diameter, meaning you will have an inch of clay outside the ring.
5 Throw a bowl with a wide base and an almost vertical rim. The calipers should fit just inside the rim.
6 When both pieces are leather hard, trim and smooth the top of the lid.
7 Take a small amount of clay and throw a knob onto the lid or attach a lug of clay and pull a handle.
8 Fit the two pieces together and make sure they fit. Dry the two pieces together slowly.
Flatten the clay outside the ring to bring it to the same thickness as the rest of the dish. Now, with two fingertips, thin out the ring of clay, then bring it up into a lip about inch high. Use a soft rib to compress and smooth the center of the dish. Finish the outer rim by running a wooden trimming tool just under the edge to lift it (2) and using your fingertips to thin the edge and bring it up inch (3). This creates a groove about inch wide for the lid to sit in. Don’t make this groove too narrow or you’ll have a hard time making a lid to fit. Besides, if you leave enough room, you can use the groove to arrange crackers, crostini, or apple slices for serving. Smooth the rims using a chamois and cut the dish from the bat using a wire tool. With calipers, measure the outside edge of the inner rim; making your measurement a little loose will make it easier to fit the lid (4).
Throwing the Dome
Now use the 3-pound lump of clay to make a domed lid. Throw a bowl that’s relatively flat and wide across the bottom, and make sure the rim of the bowl is close to vertical so it will fit into the groove on the plate. The calipers should fit just inside the rim of the bowl (5). Be careful not to make the fit too tight—if it ends up too loose it’s easy to trim the rim shorter to make it slightly narrower. Smooth the rim with a chamois, trim any excess clay from the base, and wire under the bowl. Loosely cover the pieces with plastic to ensure they dry evenly.
When both pieces are leather hard, turn the bowl upside down and fit the rim into the groove on the dish. If it doesn’t fit comfortably, you might be able to trim a bit of clay away from one or the other piece to make it fit better. Trim the bottom of the bowl into a smooth dome (6).
Adding a Knob and Glazing
Either throw a knob onto the top of the dome, or pull a loop handle for it. I pull my looped handles directly off the dome (7, 8). Place the lid on the dish, dry slowly, then bisque fire with the lid in place.
9 Wax the rim of the lid then dip the lid in a base glaze. Use a decorating disc to draw a pattern on with a pencil.
10 Center the lid on the wheel then brush on bands of cold liquid-wax resist, including a band just above the rim.
11 Brush on a pattern with cold liquid-wax resist, using the pencil lines as a guide.
12 Wax the groove where the lid sits, glaze outside the groove, and paint bands of wax above the foot and outside the waxed groove.
To glaze the cheese dish, first wax the rim of the lid and the groove where it rests, so the two pieces can be fired together. If you try to fire the lid separately, it can warp in the firing and end up not fitting. I use a white glaze in the interior of both pieces to better show off the cheese, and so the white unglazed surface is not too obtrusive.
The exterior of the domed lid presents a great surface for decorating. I use liquid wax resist to create a pattern with two contrasting glazes. After pouring white glaze inside, dip the lid upside-down in your chosen base glaze, just up to the rim so the glaze doesn’t get inside. To glaze the plate, hold the plate sideways and rotate it as you dip the rim into the glaze you used on the lid. If the second glaze will be white, the center of the plate can be glazed with the second dip.
Use a decorating disk to create evenly spaced divisions around the rim of the lid—you can draw lightly with a pencil directly onto the dry glaze (9). Carry these lines from the rim toward the knob. Now with the lid centered on a wheel, you can paint circles of wax resist to create a grid pattern of horizontal wax lines and vertical pencil lines. I always paint a -inch band of wax at the rim, to keep the covering glaze away from the rim (10). This helps prevent the glaze from running and sticking the two pieces together. Now that you have a grid marked out, paint the same pattern in each section of the grid with loose flowing brush strokes of wax resist (11). Know your glazes—if you have a combination that moves a lot, make wide wax strokes. Give the wax plenty of time to dry—either a couple of hours in front of a fan, or overnight. The plate doesn’t offer much scope for decorating—all it needs is a band of wax above the foot on the outside of the dish, and outside the groove on the inside of the dish (12). This way you’ll end up with the second glaze just on the rim, where it won’t flow too far.
13 Dip the lid upside-down into the second glaze. Dip the plate as well. Blowing on the wet glaze encourages it to pull off the wax.
14 Remove glaze drips from the wax resist with a damp brush. Shave down any extra thick drips of glaze with a blade.
Now dip the lid upside-down into a second glaze (13). Blowing on the wet glaze as soon as it comes out of the bucket will help encourage it to pull off the wax. If you have to do any cleanup, use a damp paint brush to wipe the glaze off the wax pattern (14), wiping the brush on a damp sponge after every stroke. It’s easier to trace the strokes of wax with a brush than with a wet sponge. Dip the plate completely in a white glaze. If the second glaze piled up in thick drips anywhere on either piece, shave these drips down a bit with an X-Acto knife so they don’t spoil your wax pattern. Carefully check the rim of the lid, the groove in the plate, and the foot of the plate for glaze drips before firing.
Sumi von Dassow is an artist, instructor, and regular contributor to Pottery Making Illustrated. She lives in Golden, Colorado. Check out Sumi’s book, In the Potter’s Kitchen, available in the Ceramic Arts Daily Shop, https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/bookstore/in-the-potters-kitchen.