It is not complicated to make a cheese plate that will wow your guests! You don’t have to default to just serving some cheese cubes and crackers. Well planned, it makes for great and memorable parties. It’s a great conversation starter, something for everyone to enjoy together and gather around.
Here are 10 great tips that will guarantee success!
TIP 1: Make it Look Nice!
- Think about colors: Choose a cheese tray of contrasting color, such as a black slate, and accompaniments with vivid and contrasting colors. Imagine the contrast of the black slate with the light colors of most cheeses and the warm colors of fruits, such as a nice pear (we love the small Forelle pear with its gorgeous skin!), fresh raspberries, kiwis and dried apricots. Choose nice little dishes for the savory preserves you’ll serve. Here you go: you just created a piece of art!
- Think about shape and texture: Be creative with your choice of cheese board. A long slate board will definitely impress your guests! A rough and rustic wooden board of an unusual shape can also be lots of fun.
- Space things out on your cheese plate or board. Give each cheese and cheese pairing lots of room. It simply makes for better composition, but it also makes it much easier for your guests to serve themselves!
TIP 2: Keep it Simple!
For a party of 6 to 8, we recommend to select 3 cheeses, and a larger selection for larger groups. Estimate serving 3 oz of cheese per person (1 oz per cheese per person).
Also keep the accompaniments simple: the choice of 2 fruits, 2 nuts and 2 preserves makes for a nice mix.
TIP 3: Choose Complementing Cheeses
Make sure to have a selection of cheeses which ranges from mild to strong. That will give the most variety in the tastes and textures (soft, semi-soft and hard), and will ensure that every guest finds something he or she likes.
- For a selection of 3 cheeses, we like a mild cheese such as fresh or aged goat cheese, a semi-soft alpine cheese or a soft-ripened (or bloomy rind) cheese (Brie, Camembert, Coulommiers or Double/Triple Cream), and a blue cheese. Some cheese mongers recommend including 2 or 3 types of milk (goat, cow and sheep) in the cheese selection, which the above selection allows you to do.
- For a larger selection, we like to add 1 or 2 of the cheeses mentioned above (semi-soft alpine cheese and bloomy rind cheese), a hard cheese like a Swiss style cheese or cheddar, and some stronger, a bit pungent washed rind cheese such as Jasper Hill’s Winnemere or the oldest Normandy cheese, the Livarot.
You can also choose to feature a certain country or region, as it would make for great conversations. Most cheese making regions produce a number of styles of cheeses from different milk types so it’s a great way to get your guests talking about places they traveled to or would like to visit. Here in Vermont, we are particularly lucky. We have the highest ratio of cheesemakers per habitant in the whole country, and a large number of superb artisan cheeses!
TIP 4: Organize the Cheeses on the Plate
- Serve the cheeses at room temperature. Take them out of the fridge one hour before serving, and a little longer for hard cheeses.
- Organize the cheeses from the milder ones to the stronger ones. Suggest to your guests to start with the milder ones.
- Have enough room on the cheese board or plate for guests to cut the cheese. You can also pre-cut some pieces in advance.
- Have one knife for each cheese. Choose a thin blade for the soft cheese, or the knives with holes which reduce the blade surface area. Have a sturdier blade for hard cheeses and cheeses with hard rinds.
- Label the cheeses. Have a sign for each cheese or written in chalk on the slate. Include the name, milk type and region. Your guests will love to learn about the various cheeses and discuss them.
- For a serious cheese party, buy the 33 cheeses small booklets for your guests. They can take notes about their favorite cheeses and bring the booklet home as a souvenir!
TIP 5: Choosing Breads and Crackers
Choose breads and crackers which flavor doesn’t compete with cheese. Stay away from flavored crackers or whole wheat crackers which are too strong in taste. Rather choose a nice French baguette, with a nice crunch crust or a plain water cracker. We like the Mariner Original Water Cracker (from Massachusetts, shown here) or the Carr’s.
TIP 6: Include Something Crunchy
Nuts will give the crunchy texture that people love in food. It will go particulary well with the soft, rich and creamy cheeses. Try hazelnuts, pecans or almonds.
TIP 7: Think Subtle Acidity to Complement the Fat Content of the Cheese
A nice balance of acidity and sweetness is the best combination to offset the cheese’s richness. After dozens and dozens of tastings, our favorite cheese pairings have a bit of acidity, but are not as acid as chutneys. Acid fruits such as strawberries, raspberries and kiwis are therefore great with cheeses, and yes, we also believe that our Cheese CompanionsTM offer that nice balance of acidity and sweetness.
TIP 8: Avoid Cheese Pairings That are Too Sweet
The natural sweetness in fruits is a great complement to the cheese. But we find that regular jams are too sweet. Their sweetness fights with the flavors of the cheeses. It is particularly true of some fig spreads out there on the market. We recommend choosing products especially created for cheese pairings.
TIP 9: Trust the Traditions When Choosing Cheese Pairings
Have you ever noticed the number of recipes made of pears and blue cheese? This is one of those “tried and true” traditional cheese pairings! Look around and you’ll soon discover some of those flavors known to work well together. In the South of France, for instance, people have traditionally eaten sweet cherries with Tomme cheese and other semi-soft alpine cheeses. Here at Blue Valley Gourmet, we’re excited to be working on “French Classics” cheese pairings, using figs, quince and cherries, 3 of the traditional fruits used for cheese pairings.
TIP 10: Be adventurous!
Last but not least, be adventurous. Try unusual pairings. They may not always work, but you may be surprised. Recently a number of cheese mongers have discussed how great chocolate goes with cheese. Who would have guessed?
And for more ideas, make sure to check Issues on cheese pairings regularly published by Culture Cheese Magazine.