A selection of cheeses serves as easy party fare or as an alternative to dessert. Go from fromage fledgling to cheese whiz with these simple steps.
1. Choose the Cheeses
Three different cheeses will serve six to eight people; add more choices if you're hosting a bigger party, and estimate a pound of cheese (total) for every five guests. Aim for a variety of different tastes and textures. A helpful clue when it comes to flavor: Cheeses that look different usually taste different. For a good mix, try one fresh, smooth cheese, such as mild goat or mozzarella, and a buttery one with a soft, edible rind, like Brie or Camembert. Then add one or two semi-hard or hard cheeses: Go for a milder one, like Gruyere or Manchego, or a dry, sharp variety, such as Pecorino Romano or Parmesan. If you like, include a blue cheese (creamy Roquefort or pungent Stilton both work). Cheeses taste best at room temperature, so let them sit for an hour or so before serving -- large chunks and hard cheeses may take a little longer.
2. Select the bread
Serve your wedges and wheels with slices of crusty bread or baguette. If you prefer something crisp, try water crackers, which are plain enough to pair with flavorful cheeses.
3. Pick the extras
The natural sweetness in fruit complements the saltiness of cheese. Try apples, pears, grapes, or dried fruits such as figs, prunes, and apricots. Add nuts to the plate for a crunchy texture that offsets rich, creamy cheeses.