Why am I’m telling you how to arrange a beautiful cheese plate?
It’s not because everywhere I turned in France, I was blown away by the cheese. I was and it seems that the French never tire of it either. I remember one night at a party in Grenoble, after several courses of food, the cheese came out and it nearly caused a riot as people elbowed their way to the cheese table.
My decision to write about a cheese board actually started this past summer with a conversation at a cocktail party. I was having a conversation with an amazing home designer who said she wouldn’t know where to start in arranging a cheese plate. She can arrange furniture at magazine level, so I got to work to make this easy and no fail.
How to Build a Beautiful Cheese Plate
Do not be intimidated by the hundreds of cheeses available. If you follow my simple rules, you can put together a fantastic cheese plate. The key is BALANCE, and I’ll make that easy for you.
Establish a Budget
Cheese can be pricey, as high as $30 a pound, so decide a budget first for the cheese and for the accompaniments.
You can build a cheese plate by shopping at a gourmet cheese department or going to a places like Costco. The advantages of shopping in a gourmet cheese department such as Whole Foods or your local cheese shop is that they will let you taste anything.
They are well versed with how to make selections, and they will offer lots of variety. They will even cut you smaller pieces of cheese, something you cannot do at the warehouse stores. Nashville has a very nice cheese shop in East Nashville, the Bloomy Rind and they will be happy to help.
More on shopping tips at the bottom of this post.
Balance Your Cheese Board with an Assortment of Cheeses and Complimentary Accompaniments.
A balanced cheese board will contain, cheese, crackers and bread, jam and honey, nuts, fruit and something perhaps something savory such as prosciutto or salami, although that’s not necessary.
Use only Four or Five Cheese Selections, and Vary the Type.
Cheese can be broken down into 4 categories. Bloomy, Hard, Semi-Soft, and Fresh. (Fresh means not aged and spreadable, such as goat cheese ).
Choose one or two hard or medium hard cheeses, a soft bloomy cheese such as brie, and either a goat cheese or a blue cheese. Not all bloomy or blue cheeses are alike, and I highly recommend you taste the cheese in advance.
Taste Your Cheese Before You Buy. Your cheese monger may recommend a cheese you hate. Cheese is subjective. Don’t feel obligated to like their pick of the day. Tell them it’s not for you and your guests and select another sample.
Bloomy Cheese. Soft Ripened Cream Cheese. Saint Angel is a triple-crème cheese that is very mild in flavor. I like my cheese a little tangier, but this is a good selection for a well rounded cheese plate. We purchased a very pungent bloomy cheese in a French Market for the train to Italy, and we fell in love with Saint-Felicien’s mushroom tang and it’s heaven when served with crusty bread. We also love Cowboy Creamery from California.
Medium and Hard Cheese. I have a propensity for sheep’s milk cheese and will always include one on my cheese tray. Sheep’s cheese is easier to digest than cow’s milk and is often a good choice for those who are lactose intolerant. I love the nutty sheep’s milk cheeses like P’tit Basque from France, and Manchego from Spain. If I can find a good Toscana Pecorino, I’ll consider myself lucky. Unlike Romano Pecorino (which is very sharp and salty), this is more approachable as an appetizer, and is especially nice with honey.
A mild cheese that is very festive is Wensleydale with Cranberries. Made with cow’s milk and some sheep’s milk from the United Kingdom, originally made by Monks and passed to farmer’s wives, most people like this.
Fresh Cheese which is not aged. We have a local goat’s milk cheese here from Noble Springs Dairy that is of the highest quality chèvre and my favorite, a little soft-ripened crottin called Harpeth Fleur, a perfectly elegant cheese. I’m also quite fond of award winning Humboldt Fog from California.
A small amount of blue cheese is wonderful to add depth and saltiness. Here, I served pears with Roquefort, and this would be a great addition to a cheese table. You could choose a blue such as Maytag Blue, a french blue sheep’s milk, Roquefort, or an Italian Blue, Gorgonzola. Blue cheeses vary greatly in tartness and creaminess, and you might be surprised that you think you hate blue cheese until you find that right one, or you love blue cheese and find one you cannot tolerate. Keep tasting.
Serve Cheese at Room Temperature – Be sure to take the cheese out an hour before your party. Cold cheese is tasteless and dreadful. Even a bland cheese will come a little bit to life once it warms up.
Choose a Few Accompaniments, Fruit, Nuts, Jams etc. to Build Your Beautiful Cheese Plate
Jams, Honey, Chutney – After you have decided upon your cheese, select one or two sweet accompaniments, such as one fig jam, preserves, or honey. Some people like pepper jellies, but unless they are quite special, I tend to stay away from them. I would not pour anything over the cheese, but allow guests to help themselves. Serve these in little bowls.
Bread – You can make a delicious loaf of bread like this no-knead artisan bread.
Here is an awesome gluten free French Bread recipe that would be a wonderful addition.
Crackers – Water or pita crackers are best. You might also include a gluten free cracker. Avoid textures like saltines and Ritz. I also included a chocolate fig cake that is dense and amazing when paired with a hard cheese. Trader Joe’s has a gluten-free seeded cracker we love.
Fruit – Grapes, sliced apples, pears, or nectarines already sliced bring sweetness, texture and color to the board. In this picture, I drizzled syrupy raspberry balsamic over nectarines. Apples, pears, and grapes pair well with every kind of cheese except semi-softs like Mozzarella. Strawberries and apricots go best with soft ripened cheese and goat’s cheese.
Salty Savory Meat – I wrapped melon with prosciutto to add a dairy free element, and because it’s so good. You could add in slices of salami as an alternative. You could also serve this bacon jam.
Nuts or Olives – Marcona almonds are the perfect accompaniment to any cheese board. In the winter near Christmas, these roasted rosemary walnuts are wonderful. Or, you could add some rosemary to the Marcona almonds. Olives are a nice way to add some salty, briny notes. Add some orange or lemon zest to the olives.
Serve a Sweet with Your Cheese Platter
You might add a tray of dark chocolate, which will go well with red wine for a nice finish. You could also include a light tart such as this pear almond tart, which I tend to serve when the only thing I”m serving is a cheese tray.
Step out and be Different with a Savory Cheesecake
Here is a Savory Cheesecake with a Potato Chip Crust. Recipe Here.
Serving Wine or Beer with a Beautiful Cheese Plate
I am not a wine expert, and I want to keep this simple for you. If you have such an assortment of cheese from mild to hard and strong, include some white wine such as chardonnay (Louis Jadot Macon-Villages Chardonnay is lovely) or sparkling white which will pair well with the bloomy and softly ripened cheeses. Pinot Noir is a mild red that will also work, even with bloomy cheeses.
Do serve some full-bodied red wine for the stronger cheeses, (I like a deep, fruity Zinfindel) and Doug likes smoky reds like Malbec. Consider serving one sweet wine which will go well with salty blue cheese. Feel free to serve beer with a cheese platter too. Here is a good article on how to pair cheese with beer.
Arrange Your Cheese for Your Beautiful Cheese Plate
You can use your imagination to make the board attractive. Use cake plates, tile slabs, traditional cheese boards, platters, and pretty little dishes for the accompaniments.
Slice some of the cheese ahead, but put out cheese knives for each cheese. You might also want to put name tags at each cheese. Do not slice all the cheese at once.
Have fun. I have these little mice that always make into on the cheeseboard. After all, a cheeseboard is part entertainment, part delicious.
Shopping Tips for Cheese Buying
Buy your cheese at least a few days in advance of your event, so that you can shop with leisure, not settling for the local grocery that doesn’t carry much.
Costco has some really great cheese. It’s where I buy my Manchego and Gouda. They also have Brie and Speciality Cheeses. The only issue might be the larger pieces.
Trader Joe’s has the cheese, the crackers, the nuts and jams. You could also buy a pre-made tart or cookies as the sweet part. I love the burrata.
Aldi’s sells cheese, which you can check out, but there have been times I couldn’t get what I wanted.
Whole Foods will be pricier but you can taste and get assistance. You can ask them for a soft, a hard, a bloomy and a fresh and they should know what you mean. They also have several sheep’s milk cheese choices aside from Manchego and they carry Cowgirl Creamery.
Some Kroger’s carry Murray’s Cheese, which is very good, but don’t expect to taste or get much assistance unless you run into a demonstration.
If you have a local cheese shop, take the time to visit and make it an enjoyable experience.
So tell me, what is your favorite cheese?
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