Since about 8000 B.C., we’ve been enjoying the nuances, flavors, textures, and aromas of cheese. Paired with crusty bread and a glass of vino, few foods are as satisfying; cheese is the perfect solution when entertaining. But how do you assemble the ultimate cheese platter, and what can you pair it with? Read on for some simple tips that will make you and your guests smile and say cheese.
The French platter Cheeses, clockwise on platter from top right: Camembert, Comté, Roquefort, Mimolette; off platter at right: Langres. Served with baguette, saucisson sec, chestnut honey, cornichons, chocolate-covered almonds, apples, red currants, and grapes.Viognier, Champagne.
It’s important to shop somewhere you trust. Find a place staffed by friendly, knowledgeable cheesemongers who are generous with advice and tastes. Ask them for stories or fun facts to pass along to those sharing your platter.
Aim for three to five cheeses with a range of textures and milk types. Three is plenty if the board will accompany other dishes in a multicourse meal. Opt for five if cheese will be the star of the show. (If you include too many, your guests won’t know where to start and certainly won’t remember the names of all those wonderful cheeses.)
Buy about 1 oz. per person per cheese, maybe a bit more if cheese is all that’s being served. Include at least one entry-level cheese like a creamy Brie or an aged Cheddar, along with something most people in the room won’t be familiar with, like Challerhocker, a creamier cousin of Gruyère, or Caveman Blue, a balanced, toasty blue from Rogue Creamery in Oregon.
The Italian job Cheeses (clockwise from top): Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, Quadrello di Bufala, Fontina Val D’Aosta, Gorgonzola. Served with ciabatta, acacia honey, prosciutto di Parma, roasted tomatoes, pistachios, figs, plums, and Castelvetrano olives, Wine pairings: Pinot Bianco, Lambrusco, and Barbera.
Arranging the platter
Make sure to take your cheese out of the fridge a couple of hours before serving; it should be at room temperature when you serve it.
Be creative, and have fun with your board choice. The serving vehicle can often be as much a source of conversation as the cheese itself. Serve your assortment on a wooden cutting board, a favorite serving plate, or a cheese board or slate.
When plating, leave oozier cheeses in one piece for your guests to serve themselves, but cut a small starter piece, including the rind, to signal that rind should be included in the bite. If it’s a creamy round packaged in a box or wrapped in spruce bark, you can remove the top rind and allow guests to dip into the cheese.
For hard cheeses, it’s nice to portion for your guests so that it’s easy to grab a piece. When portioning, equal rind distribution is key. Don’t stress over it, though. If a cheese seems to want to crumble, use a paring knife to create chunks, rather than pieces.
The Spanish platter Cheeses, left to right: Cabrales, Mahon, Leonora, Idiazabal. Served with: Ines Rosales Sweet Olive Oil Tortas, fig cake, Iberico chorizo, jamon, Marcona almonds, membrillo paste, fresh figs, berries. Beverage pairings: Pale cream sherry, Cava, Brown ale.
Classic companions include honey, jam, cornichons, olives, cured meat, figs, pears, or dried fruits and nuts, particularly Marcona almonds. But don’t be afraid to try something new. The most memorable cheese boards are playful and unstuffy. Try bacon with a washed-rind cheese like Époisses, chocolate with an aged Gouda, or gingersnaps as the “crackers” for blue cheese.
In fact, since blue cheeses tend to be salty, it’s always a great idea to pair them with something sweet, like honey, caramel, chocolate, sweet-tart jams, dried fruit, candied nuts, or slices of artisan bread that are studded with fruit and/or nuts. And sweet things go very well with other salty cheeses, too, including hard ones like Parmigiano-Reggiano and funky washed-rind varieties like Taleggio, Limburger, and Époisses.
As far as crackers and bread go, aim for variety. Offer a neutral option, such as a baguette or water cracker, and a more complex, texture-driven one, such as crostini, seeded crackers, or miche.
The all American platter. Cheeses (from left to right): Kunik by Nettle Meadow, Harbison by Jasper Hill Farm, Prairie Breeze by Milton Creamery, Pleasant Ridge Reserve by Uplands Cheese, Bay Blue by Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. Served with Firehook Sea Salt Crackers, Rick’s Picks Mean Beans, Potato chips (for dipping in the Harbison), Fat Toad Farm Caramel, and candied nuts. Beverage pairings: Chardonnay, sparkling rosé, and Marzen