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Cheese plates are perfect to serve at get-togethers because most people love cheese, and you don’t have to fuss with a recipe or cooking. But choice paralysis can set in real fast when you're in the shop staring at wheels and wedges and bricks and balls of milk-and-bacteria-made deliciousness. Let’s simplify.
Choose Your Cheese
Select 3 to 5 cheeses, depending on how much food and how many people you’re serving. That amount is manageable and will fit on most trays. Offer a variety of textures, say noted cheesemakers Julia Lowry and Veronica Pedraza in Bon Appetit:
- Soft, creamy cheese (spreadable), like brie, goat cheese, or Camembert
- Semi-hard cheese (sliceable), like cheddar or Gouda
- Hard cheese (usually breaks into chunks when you cut it), like Parmesan
- Blue cheese veined with flavorful mold, like Gorgonzola and Stilton
If you’re still having a hard time deciding, narrow down the choices: Choose locally made cheese, if available. Or filter by milk (cow, sheep, goat) or by region. You could get specific and select only cheeses made from sheep’s milk and produced in northern Michigan, for example.
How much cheese should you get?
Cheese expert Laura Werlin recommends 2 ounces per person if you have 3 cheeses, 1 ounce per person if you have 4 or more types. But you know your people—if you have some big eaters in your group, adjust accordingly.
What should you serve with cheese?
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You don't want the cheese and crackers getting in a fight, so avoid flavored crackers. Veronica Pedraza recommends sticking with one sort of cracker or bread. Bon Appetit’s Amiel Stanek prefers Carr’s Table Water Crackers because the mild taste won’t upstage your carefully chosen cheeses.
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Pair cheeses with condiments that complement their flavors. Think of those couples who are completely different from each other but get along grandly—savory with sweet (blue cheese with preserves or honey) or creamy-mild with crunchy-tart (brie with Granny Smith apple slices).
Again, simplicity rules—one sweet spread and a couple savory foods such as pickles or salami will be fine, says Pedraza. Include a fruit or two. Be sure to add crunchy tidbits like Marcona almonds or walnuts.
Preparing the cheese
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Let the cheese come to room temperature. Take it out of the fridge 30 minutes to an hour before serving, depending on how hard the cheese is. So you’ll need to prep the cheese ahead of time.
Pedraza recommends slicing firmer cheeses into “wedges and strips that can be eaten in one or two bites.” Keep your cuts fairly thick, because thin slices will dry out quickly. Don’t even try to slice very hard cheese such as Parmesan. Just break it into bite-size chunks. Cut soft crumbly blue cheeses with a wire slicer.
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It’s easier for guests if you cut the cheese in advance. However, this doesn’t work with soft cheese. In this situation, just cut a starter piece. This is an especially good idea for cheeses with edible rinds, like brie. It lets your guests know it’s OK to eat it, says Werlin. (Squeamish about eating brie rind? This rant will set you straight.)
If the cheese is scoopable and it’s wrapped in something inedible, just slice the top of the wrapping off.
Presenting the cheese
Put runny or pungent cheeses on separate plates. Arrange the other cheeses in order from mildest to strongest flavors. If you’re serving the cheeses whole, provide a separate knife for each cheese. Labeling the cheeses is a thoughtful touch (slate boards are one way to label). Add your accompaniments and you’re ready to enjoy that cheese.
What? The party’s over and you still have cheese? Use the leftovers in one of these recipes.
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