How Assemble A Great Cheese Plate

June 29, 2012
by Shannon Hepburn

Having a chilled drink with a fantastic array of cheeses trumps hanging out in a hot kitchen.  So let’s talk cheese.  Here are the basics when it comes to assembling a cheese plate.

  • Choose different styles of cheese. Yep, this may seem obvious, but it’s the most important part of putting a selection of cheeses together. The variety should range from the following styles: fresh, bloomy, washed-rind, semi-soft, semi-hard, hard/very aged, and blue. If you can’t differentiate between the styles, just trust your eyes. If they appear aesthetically different, then they will most likely taste different. Go for different ages, textures, degrees of creaminess, and colors.
  • Similarly, pick different milk types. Don’t limit yourself to all cow, goat, or sheep, even if you hold one milk type particularly close to your heart. Mix it up.
  • Stick to an odd number of cheeses. Formal cheese plates normally have an odd number construction. The balance of odd numbers is visually appealing. Try to limit yourself to 3 or 5 cheeses. You don’t want to overwhelm your guests. There are some cases when more than 5 cheeses may be appropriate, like a large buffet or if you’re planning on having the cheeses take center stage.
  • Serve one or two bread-like things to eat the cheese alongside or on top of. Keep it simple, like plain, sturdy crackers and plain baguette. Fruit and nut breads can also be nice. And along with bread, offer one or two accompaniments. One thing should be sweet– like honey, fig cake, fruit, or chutney– and the other, savory– like olives, spiced nuts, cornichons, or cured meat.
  • Purchase the right amount. Especially since cheese can be expensive and it’s hard to store properly at home, you don’t want to overbuy.  Consider how much other food you’re serving and at what point in the meal you’ll be eating the cheese. If you’re having cheese before a meal, you may want to serve a bit more, while if you’re serving it afterwards, for dessert or as a course before dessert, you might need a little less. Consider also how intensely cheese-loving your company is. (This may increase your purchase just a bit.) Generally, you should buy about 3/4 to 1 ounce of each cheese per person. So if you’re having 4 people over, you’d probably buy about 4 ounces (or 1/4 lb.) of each cheese you serve.
  • Let the cheese “come to temperature.” To get the most flavor out of the cheese, it needs to come to room temperature before serving.  One hour out on the counter from the fridge is typically enough.  If you have room in your refrigerator, you may assemble the cheese board no more than 12 hours in advance, wrap it in plastic wrap, and place in the fridge. Unwrap an hour before guests arrive.

*******Looking at the Farmers To You offerings, some great combos would include*******

Bayley Hazen Blue,  Champlain Valley Creamery Organic Triple Cream  &  Landaff

Cabot Clothbound Cheddar,  Moses Sleeper  &  Shepards Blend Chevre

Harbison,  Willow Moon Farm Feta  &  Grafton Cheddar Cheese

Bread-like accompaniments include:

Red Hen seeded baguette

Patchwork Everyday Matzoh

Red Hen Sprouternickel, thinly sliced

Thanks to the blog The Kitchn & to Eric Paul for their cheesy guidance.

EAT WELL AND BE WELL