The holidays offer a wonderful occasion to serve a cheese platter at your next gathering of friends, family or colleagues. However, cheeses can and should be served year round as there are endless varietals to please nearly any palette and assembly is simple as can be. Recently, I decided to learn how to exactly create a cheese platter full of different cheeses, food to pair it with and how to present it so that the ideal flavors can be experienced and enjoyed. And what I discovered is the preparation is just as much fun as the actual event. Why? Because their is taste testing involved!
Let’s get started so you too can create your own cheese platter for that soiree you’ve been thinking about planning.
1. Choose the Cheeses
When making your shopping list, try to pick up four different types of cheeses in the following categories:
Another idea is to choose one varietal based on the type of milk that is used to make it: cow, sheep or goat or perhaps cheeses from a certain region, state or country.
~How much cheese should you purchase? 1-2 ounces per person
2. Taste Test
A couple of years ago I discovered a local gourmet grocer – Salumiere Cesario – that has its own cheese room in the neighboring town of Walla Walla. The cheese room is to me like Santa’s workshop is to children. At a crisp 55 degree fahrenheit as well as a humidifier to keep the cheeses properly refrigerated, customers can step inside and taste any of the cheeses to determine exactly what to serve to their guests or enjoy for themselves. With cheeses shipped in from nearby (Oregon, Washington, California), you will also find Parmigiano Reggiano rounds shipped in from Italy, Gouda from Holland and Manchego from Spain, just to name a few.
3. Food Pairings
There are many different options for pairing your cheeses, but first start with the basics – pick up either a French baguette (artisan bread) or crackers to serve as the vehicle to serve the cheese. If you have any guests who are gluten-free, there are many different delicious crackers that are gluten-free and scrumptious (the one’s below for example). Make sure that your bread and/or crackers don’t compete in flavor with the cheeses. In other words choose a classic baguette or plain artisan bread and natural crackers, but nothing with excessive flavor (exception: olive bread). After all, your bread/crackers are simply the vehicle to bring the cheese to your taste buds.
Other items to pair with your cheeses:
- jarred condiments – chutneys, artichoke hearts, olives, honey, jams
- sweet & salty items – toasted and salted nuts, cured meats (prosciutto, salami), dried apricots, cornichons
- fruits – dates, figs, apples, pears, grapes (choose a subtle fruit that won’t compete with the flavors of the cheese)
Depending upon when you are serving your cheese platter:
- Before Dinner: pair with savory elements – olives, chutney, prosciutto, nuts, etc
- After Dinner (alternative to dessert): pair with sweeter elements – jams, honey, dried fruit, (toasted nuts work well here too)
4. Setting up the Platter
- Find a board – wood, slate, ceramic or marble. Use multiple boards if you want to place individual cheeses around the house in order to encourage guests to mingle and move.
- Label the cheeses – Use either chalk or cheese labels/flags to answers guests questions on the spot and let them know what they will be tasting. If room, include adjectives to describe the flavor.
- Include a separate cheese knife for each type of cheese.
- Include 4-6 different cheeses
- Don’t crowd the cheeses, as you don’t want a guests wrist in another cheese as they are cutting a slice of the one they want.
- Separate the strong cheeses.
- Place food pairing items in dishes or bowls around the platter, or if the platter is large enough, mixed between the cheeses.
- Include freshly picked sprigs of rosemary or thyme as decoration
- Include small plates and napkins, as well as toothpicks or forks
- Have a sharp cheese knife for hard cheeses
5. One Hour Before Guests Arrive
- Set up the cheeses.
- Serve cheeses at room temperature. Why? In order for their full flavor to be enjoyed – cold mutes the flavor.
What I discovered is that with the endless options to choose from, you can find at least one cheese to please everyone’s preferences. I had the opportunity to share this cheese platter with my family over Thanksgiving, and many were pleasantly surprised to find cheeses they perhaps wouldn’t have thought they would like, turn out to be their favorite on the platter. If nothing else, it provokes wonderful conversation with people you either know well or are just getting to know, and isn’t that the reason for bringing people together?
- Fromager d’Affinois (similar to brie) Fromagerie Guilloteau, France (cow’s milk) 8-10 weeks
- Rogue River Blue cheese, Rogue Creamery Oregon (cow’s milk) 6-8 months
- Midnight Moon Gouda, Cyprus Grove Creamery, (goat’s milk) Arcata, California, 1 year
- Manchego La Mancha, Spain (sheep’s milk) 8 months
- Farmstead Gouda, Holland, extra aged (cow’s milk) 3 years
Utensils you might need: