When I arrive at a party and see a cheese platter–full of cured meats and aged cheeses, dried fruit and jams, olives and nuts, crusty bread and crackers–it’s pretty much a done deal that I’m dropping my anchor next to it. I love the mix-and-match. I love it even when I’m the one relentlessly pursuing the dill havarti until it’s, “oh what happened to all the havarti?”
But for anyone who has never made one, or recalls putting together their first, it can be intimidating. How many cheeses? What kinds? And wait–what crackers should I use? By the time you get to the market and come face-to-face with the cured meats. You hadn’t even considered them. Cheeseboards shouldn’t leave us in a flop sweat.
I’ve been there–overwhelmed by the sheer number of options and ways to pair flavors of cheese with meat, fruit, and on and on. Now I’ve got the hang of it, though, and I’m able to enjoy experimenting. The key to making a cheese plate without losing your mind or spending a fortune is just a little planning and following a simple formula.
How many people are you serving?
As long as you’re serving other things, and cheese is not the main course, it’s safe to plan on 2 to 3 ounces per person. For 5 people, plan to buy 1 pound of cheese.
How many cheeses should I buy?
Minimum 3 cheeses. Max 5/6–any more and you’re likely to overwhelm your guests with too many flavors and too many choices.
Choose Your Cheeses
To keep it interesting, you want to vary textures (soft, firm, hard) and flavors. Consider choosing something creamy and mild, like brie, something bright and tangy, like goat cheese, something bold and stinky, like blue or gorgonzola, something aged and sharp, like cheddar, gouda, or gruyere, and maybe something hard, like Parmigiano Reggiano. Keep in mind that these are all cheeses you can find at your supermarket.
Sharp Cheddar Cheese
Brie (Check out Cook’s Illustrated’s great guide to supermarket brie!)
Blue Cheese (Castello Danish Blue)
Havarti with Dill (Arla Dofino Dill Havarti – my newest cheese obsession. It’s buttery, rich, and semi-soft, with the bright flavor of dill)
Choose Your Accompaniments
Simple plan: baguette, 1 type of cracker, 1 dried fruit, 1-2 fresh fruits, 1 jam or honey, 1 type of nut (or a mix), 1 cured meat, and a mix of olives
Remember that the fun of a spread like this is the variety of flavor and texture, so even unlikely pairings are great–though, if you’re friends with anyone who would point out an improper pairing, fire that friend immediately and come over. Have fun with your choices and live a little <– also great dating advice.
Baguette, thinly sliced (toasted or not, depending on your preference)
Crackers – simple water crackers are great because they don’t impart any distinct flavor–just a crisp wafer-like texture
Dried Fruit – apricots, dates
Fresh fruit – figs (sliced and halved), grapes (any kind/color), pears, oranges
Jams, Jellies, Preserves – apricot, orange, raspberry, fig, cherry, pepper
Nuts – almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews
Prosciutto (sliced), Salami (sliced) or Pepperoni (or choose 2 if you’re having a large group)
Olives (a variety is nice – I buy them at the Italian market or in the prepared foods section of my grocery store)
The most beautiful cheese platters look effortlessly styled. They invite guests to dig in because the ingredients are scattered imperfectly, which is not to say they’re messy, rather, they’re rustic.
Use Food as Decor
Sprigs of rosemary and thyme are beautiful garnishes, as are grapes, oranges, and figs.
1 Knife per Cheese
You don’t want to transfer flavors among cheeses.
Take Cheese Out 30 Mins to 1 Hour Before Serving
Obviously don’t put anyone at risk by leaving the cheese out for hours, but the flavor of the cheese will come through much better when it’s closer to room temperature.
Label the Cheeses
I hope this helps you with party planning for the holiday season ahead, friends! Make a cheese plate and let me know what you used–either in the comments below or share a photo on Instagram with the hashtag #andiemitchell.