If you’re anything like me there’s nothing better than a well thought out cheese plate. Cheese is basically its own food group in my world, and I think that no dinner or cocktail party is complete without a proper cheese platter. Anybody can go to a local grocery store and pick out a few blah variations of pre-packaged cheeses. A good host will take the time to go to an actual cheese shop (fromagerie) and pick out a few beautiful cheeses and accompaniments.
To start, you should always attempt to create a plate that has an assortment of textures and flavours, hard and soft cheeses and buttery and sharp flavours for example. You want your plate to be exciting! If you are not overly familiar with the different varietals of cheese you local cheesemonger can be your best friend.
Choosing your cheese:
As I mentioned before, you should ensure a variety of different cheeses end up on your platter. Make sure that there is something for everyone, so something mild, like a brie for the less adventurous and something strong, and exotic for those adventurous cheese lovers you’ve invited over. I like to keep my numbers odd, as it’s more visually pleasing, and I believe five is often a good number. I suggest trying to include at least one cheese each from: Aged (e.g. Aged Cheddar, Smoked Gouda), Soft (Brie, Camembert, Cherve), Firm (Manchego, Parmigano-Reggiano), and Blue (Stilton, Gorgonzola Dolce). As a ball park figure you should normally buy one ounce per person per cheese, but you know your guests best, if you think they will eat more or less, buy accordingly.
While I have no problem eating cheese alone, the proper accompaniments can enhance the flavours of your cheese even more. Make sure not to include too many sides, or sides that are flavoured (e.g. flavoured crackers or sourdough bread).
Carbs – Offer a selection of breads such as thinly sliced French baguette, and an assortment of plain and seedy crackers.
Fruits – I like to offer a small selection of both fresh and dried fruit, such as grapes, strawberries and dried cranberries or cherries.
Condiments – Sweet preserves such as honey, chutney, or caramelized onions.
Extras – While this is not a charcuterie plate, it is nice to include a few salty items to complement the flavours such as salami, prosciutto and almonds.
Let’s start with the plate itself. Serve all the cheeses on one big board, I think that a wooden platter or cutting board lends an authentic, rustic vibe, which I love. One of the most important things to remember is to never crowd your cheese platter, its looks awful and inevitably, you’ll end up with someone’s fingers or knuckles all over the cheese. Also very important is to never cube or pre-cut your cheese. Set out a separate knife for each cheese. Soft cheese spreads well with a butter knife; firm cheese might require a paring knife; and aged cheese often requires a cheese plane.
Your cheese should be served at room temperature, so it is imperative that you remove it from the fridge about an hour before you plan on serving it. In terms or arranging the platter, you want your guests to start with the mildest and work their way up to the strongest, so make sure to separate your cheese in that manner. Then, make up a label for each cheese, so your guests know what they are eating and where it is from. I then like to spread the accompaniments out around the board to break it up a bit.
Make sure to keep your eyes open for a future post on the best wine and cheese pairings!
For those of you from Edmonton my two favourite cheese shops are:1. Paddy’s International Cheese Market: 12509 102 Ave NW, Edmonton AB
T5N 0M4, (780) 413-0367 2. Everything Cheese: 14912 45th Ave, Edmonton AB, T6H 5T5, (780) 757-8532