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 crusty bread or crackers, fruit, nuts, a savory component, and something sweet. Estimate one pound of cheese total for every five guests. Cheese tastes best at room temperature, so take it out at least an hour before guests arrive (large chunks and hard cheese may take a little longer). This way, it’ll be ready to go when the party starts, and you’ll be free to focus on other hosting logistics. Be sure to place a different knife out for each type of cheese, and consider pre-cutting the cheese for your guests to avoid awkward fumbling (you can do this while the cheese is still cold). Finally, it never hurts to decorate the platter -- hardy rosemary and sage hold up well.
Variety is key
Since cheese is the main attraction, part of the fun is the thought put into the selection -- the flavors and story behind each cheese can become a topic of conversation. Aim for a variety 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. Switch it up between creamy, semi-hard/hard, and aged, and include no more than one goat or blue cheese. For shape, go with a wedge or two, a round, a single-wheel cheese, and a pyramid. If using multiple wedges, cut them into different sizes.
Creme de la Creme Cheeses
Bucheron is a fantastic choice -- the chevre is sliced into oval rounds with a delectable creamline around the ash. Or try a creamy ash-ripened goat cheese like Humboldt Fog, which has a striking blue line of ash running through the center of the wedge. 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 -- it's just the thing for fall or winter platters.
Blue cheese has its place on every cheese platter, but it’s rarely the most popular among guests, so it's best to typically only put one out. You can't go wrong with 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. Peppery Roquefort or pungent Stilton are also two standbys in this category.
Triple creme cheese is always a crowd-pleaser, so definitely add one of these to your 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, pick out a nice Taleggio or pick up a wheel of 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.
Aged cheddar, such as Cabot Clothbound Cheddar or Tickler Cheddar, is the move in this category -- both have sophisticated flavor and a crystallized texture. Bright-orange Mimolette is a head-turner -- the craggy French cheese is almost caramel-y in taste, with a smooth, fudgy finish. If you think your guests would prefer something milder, try nutty Gruyere or Manchego, which is made from sheep’s milk.
Serve a few vehicles for the cheese, including one crusty bread -- a baguette or olive bread is ideal -- and a couple types of crackers. Water crackers are always great because they're plain enough to pair with flavorful cheeses. These homemade Pistachio-Raisin Crisps are a winner, but if you don't have time to whip up your own, Jan’s Farmhouse Crisps make an excellent substitute. Consider offering a gluten-free option, like Mary’s Gone Crackers or simple rice crackers. Avoid garlic- or onion-flavored bread or crackers, as they will overwhelm the flavor of the cheese.
Cured meats like prosciutto or jamon serrano are also a must. Dried sausages (such as Olli) would be delicious too -- serve a couple whole so that they look pretty on the platter and slice up the rest to make them easy for people to snack on. Fresh seasonal fruit, from ripe pears and apples to grapes and kumquats, is also a good idea, as it complements the salty cheese -- don't forget stone fruits in the summer! If you want to go the dried fruit route, Turkish figs, prunes, and apricots are all wonderful choices.
Next, add Marcona almonds or nuts, as it’s nice to have some crunch on the platter. Something pickled or marinated like Castelvetrano olives, cornichons, or artichokes are perfect for balancing the richness of the cheese. For an easy upgrade, toss your olives with strips of citrus zest, fresh woody herbs such as thyme or rosemary, a bay leaf, a chile, and lots of olive oil, then let them 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.
Watch our Kitchen Conundrums expert Thomas Joseph demonstrate how to achieve cheese plate perfection: