We all love a good cheese plate, and I make them often for dinner parties or when guests come to visit. Here are some tips on constructing the perfect cheese plate! First, determine how many people you will be serving and whether your cheese plate will be an appetizer or an addition with after-dinner aperitifs. If its an appetizer, you’ll need about 1 oz. of cheese per person/couple. If the latter, then you can go a lighter on the amount because people will have eaten.
Types of Cheese:
Now, you want to pick anywhere from 3-5 cheeses. Do not overdo it. You really don’t need as much as you think, so keep each cheese at around the 1 oz./person level. Next, these 3-5 cheeses should be diverse. And by diverse, I mean that the plate should include any of the following: fresh, semi-soft, soft-ripened, surface-ripened, semi-hard, hard, blue, and/or washed-rind. For those of you that now think I’m speaking a whole different language, I’m going to break it down.
- Fresh, well it’s fresh, and will include the likes of cheeses that are ready to eat and require zero aging.
- Semi-soft generally includes cheeses that are slightly aged.
- Soft-ripened is where you are probably going to recognize what you’re looking for: this includes Brie, Camembert, and triple creams! (*!yummy!*).
- Surface-ripened refers to the dryness or flakiness of the interior, and the molds are usually specific for aging.
- Semi-hard cheeses are aged, but can range from hard to somewhat soft; think Gouda or Cheddar here.
- Hard, is, of course, hard. This category is where you will get your grainy cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano; i.e. grate-able cheeses.
- Blue, well, that’s self explanatory.
- And, last, washed-rind has a visibly darker rind and a lighter interior. This category includes things like Muenster.
So now, that you know what your categorical choices are, let’s look at accompaniments.
Accompaniments are where you can really play and get creative. This, for me, is the fun part. Bring in any of the following:
- fig jam
- raisin bread
- crackers (different sizes, shapes, and grains)
- vegetables/fresh herbs (basil, rosemary, and arugula are great here)
- prosciutto and/or soppressata (or any charcuterie of your choosing)
If you’re worried, try your pairings at home first, and if you like them, then it’s game on! Pairing things, especially cheese, accompaniments, and wine, is something that should be fun and exploratory. Do not let anyone tell you that there are rigid rules. If they do, give them a big smile and respectfully disagree, or just hand them a cracker and tell them to eat. They will figure it out at some point (we hope!). For example, I stumbled upon a sample of artichoke pesto with fresh mozzarella on cracker at the grocery store, and loved it! The mozzarella helps to cut a little bit of the garlic in the pesto. Here’s where you can find that artichoke pesto, locally made in Louisiana by Geaux Gourmet, if you’re interested.
Here’s how my favorite cheese plate tends to look:
- Delice de Bourgogne – France, cow’s milk, triple cream, buttery, nutty, milky (Delicious with grapes! Also pairs great with fig jam, green apples, and almonds)
- Chevre – goat’s milk, creamy, and a little tart (pairs great with the fig jam, pears, and honey)
- Cheddar – English aged cheddar (nothing fancy, just some good cheddar)
- Manchego – Spain, sheep’s milk; slight hint of creaminess; nutty (pairs amazingly with quince)
Constructing the Plate:
You always want to situate your cheeses clockwise from mildest to softest. This means you would have a soft at 12 o’clock, semi-soft at 3 o’clock, hard at 6 o’clock, blue at 9 o’clock…you get the point. This makes for an easy progression on the palate.
Sometimes you aren’t using a lazy-susan or a round plate, so in that case, get creative! You can use small decorative bowls to hold the accompaniments, and label them for the guests. Put flags on each cheese so your guests will know what they are choosing. On each flag, I usually suggest an accompaniment. For example, the Manchego flag usually says “Manchego: Spain. Pair me with Quince Sauce,” and with the Chevre, the flag says “Chevre: France. I love Fig Jam and Pears.” This way, you give your guests instructions, encourage them to try new things, and it’s a fun and interactive eating experience.
Afterall, dinner parties and similar gatherings all about trying new things, enjoying the food, and relishing in the company!
Bon Appetit! Be on the lookout for my next post where we pair wine with the cheeses featured in this post!
Here are a few additional resources, and are those which I consulted for this post:
What are your favorite cheeses? Let’s chat about it!