A good cheese plate is one of my favorite things to put out when I’m having people over. It’s actually really simple once you’ve decided on the ingredients, and it has a pretty high wow factor. I lay one out when I’m having just another couple or two over or if I’m putting on a large party. Brunch, dinner, even for a breakfast one time. Just about everyone loves cheese, and while it’s easy to do, the presentation is always beautiful.
Creating a beautiful cheese plate
Start with gathering up your plates and utensils. I use a slab of slate in the shape of a rectangle that I purchased at Sur La Table (but I went to TJ Maxx the next day and found one for about 1/4 the price – my sister in law got a lovely cheese plate that year).
I have a couple of cheese knives, one for hard cheeses and one for soft ones. Be sure to use a separate knife for each cheese.
I also have a small dish that has a larger bowl attached to a smaller bowl for nuts and anything liquid I might want to add such as honey or jam.
Next, pick your cheeses. This is about as hard as it gets, and even then it’s not very hard. Plan on about one ounce per person if you’re serving it as a hors d’oeuvre and 2-3 ounces if you’re serving it as a course. Decide if you want to
- serve a variety of different cheeses
- serve different kinds of the same cheese
(See below for some ideas on cheeses)
I can tell you that my most popular cheese plates are when I do a variety of cheddar cheeses. It’s a cheese everyone is familiar with, and it seems pretty non-threatening. You’ll need to find your nearest “kind of fancy grocery store,” or my favorite, Trader Joe’s. Not fancy, but really excellent cheeses.
Either way, pick an odd number of cheeses – 3,5,7. This keeps your cheese plate visually appealing.
Next, arrange your cheeses in a specific order. For example, working clockwise, start with your strongest cheese and work through to your mildest. Or start with your hardest cheese and work around to your softest. I personally like the round clock style, but you could use left to right lines as well. Whatever floats your boat. Just have some sort of reason or order to your cheese plate.
Now we’re going to move away from cheese and think about what we want to serve with it. I always, always, always serve grapes. Dark red to black if I can get them. I also serve high quality nuts like cashews, pecans, and most importantly, almonds. You will also want some sort of bread or cracker to help get the cheese from the plate to the mouth. A French loaf sliced thinly and lightly toasted makes a great bread, as well as a really high quality cracker, the bigger the better. You need to be able to put some cheese on it! Also popular are dried fruits, a jelly or jam, olives, date cakes, and slices of pear. There is no right and wrong here – choose things you like to eat.
And finally, your drinks. Obviously wine is the obvious choice here. I like to offer both a red and a white. Sometimes a sweeter red, since those are growing in popularity. Sparkling water with or without a touch of real fruit juice, and a good quality beer is always in my house, because that’s all some folks drink.
Different kinds of cheeses to try (with updates coming soon)
- Comté AOP: I recently put this cheese out and it was a huge hit. No one could believe it was even cheddar. It’s really nutty and parmesan-like, and just delicious. This pairs well with champagne, prosecco, or white wines.
- Brie: everyone’s heard of this one, right? Some people love it, some hate it. It’s a soft cows milk cheese. This is lovely baked inside a puff pastry and served warm; Camembert;
- Parmigiano Reggiano: this is NOT what you buy already shredded at the grocery store. Don’t even think about serving that kind of stuff. Get this nutty, hard cheese from a cheesemonger or at a decent grocery and serve with a red wine. Want to be stereotypical? Try a chianti