Having a bunch of people over? Keep appetizers stress-free and minimize the number of dishes piling up in the sink by serving a cheese platter with all the fixin’s. Here's how to pick the best cheeses and what to serve them with.
Don't Fuss Too Much
Go with the basics and a few seasonal additions. Pair three to five cheeses with one to two types of crackers, one type of fruit, crunchy nuts, a savory component, and something sweet. Be sure to place a different knife out for each type of cheese, and consider decorating the platter with hardy herbs that hold up well, like rosemary and sage. Cheese should be served at room temperature, so take it out at least an hour before guests arrive. This way, it’ll be ready to go when the party starts, and you’ll be free to focus on other hosting logistics!
Variety is key
Cheese is the main attraction, and part of the fun is the thought put into the selection -- the flavors and story behind each cheese become a topic of conversation. The selections should vary in the type of milk, age, and texture, as well as in shape and color. Try to make the platter visually appealing and diverse in flavor. I typically switch it up between creamy, semi-hard/hard, and aged and include no more than one goat or blue cheese. For shape, I like to have a wedge or two, a round, a single-wheel cheese, and a pyramid. If using multiple wedges, cut them in different sizes.
Creme de la Creme Cheeses
Bucheron is my go-to for nice goat cheese. The cheese is sliced into oval rounds with a delicious creamline around the ash. I also love creamy ash-ripened goat cheeses like Humboldt Fog, which has a striking blue line of ash running through the center of the wedge, and Many Fold Farm Condor’s Ruin, which is shaped like a pyramid. Both are standouts on the board in terms of appearance. Another interesting goat cheese is Rivers Edge Up in Smoke, which is smoked over alder and hickory chips and wrapped in smoked maple leaves -- I love this one for fall or winter platters.
Blue cheese has its place on every cheese platter, but due to its pungency, it’s rarely the most popular among guests, so I typically only put one out. My favorite blues are Bayley Hazen Blue, which has a lovely creamy balance to it, or Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue, which is crumblier and cold-smoked over hazelnut shells.
Triple creme cheese is one of my favorites, so I usually have one of these on the board, like Brillat Savarin, which is a super creamy cow’s milk cheese, or Nettle Meadow Kunik, which is a single wheel made from goat’s milk. For a creamy cheese with a bit of a bite, I pick out a nice Taleggio or go with Jasper Hill Creamery’s Harbison cheese, which is so creamy that it’s basically a dip. To eat the Harbison, slice off the top of the cheese and dip away.
I usually go for aged cheddar in this category. Two of my favorites are Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and Tickler Cheddar. I love the sophisticated flavor and crystallized texture. Manchego cheese, which is made from sheep’s milk, also makes a delicious addition.
Serve a few vehicles for the cheese, including one bread -- a baguette or olive bread is ideal -- and a couple types of crackers. These homemade Pistachio-Raisin Crisps are my absolute favorite. If I don’t have time to make my own, I pick up Jan’s Farmhouse Crisps and, because I like to include a gluten-free option these days, Mary’s Gone Crackers or simple rice crackers. Cured meats like prosciutto or jamon serrano are also a must. Dried sausages are great (I like the ones from Olli) too -- I serve a couple whole so that they look pretty on the platter and slice up the rest to make it easy for people snack on.
Fresh seasonal fruit, such as ripe pears, figs (I also love dried Turkish figs), kumquats, and grapes, are also a good idea, as they complement the salty cheese. Add some Marcona almonds or nuts, as it’s nice to have some crunch on the platter. Something pickled like Castelvetrano olives or cornichons are perfect for balancing the richness of the cheese. For an easy upgrade, mix your olives with citrus zest, fresh woody herbs like thyme or rosemary, a bay leaf, a chile, and lots of olive oil, and let it sit overnight. Finally, add a sweet component like fig jam, guava paste, or honey. A little wedge of honeycomb always helps the appearance of the platter.