So you’re hosting a dinner party, and you have your starter, main and dessert courses all figured out. But have you considered serving a cheese course - a finishing touch that will really wow your dinner guests? When presenting a cheese platter, keep in mind a few tips that will make the last part of the meal extra pleasing to the eye and palate!
The basics of building a cheese platter. Serve about 3-4 ounces of total cheese per guest. Five or six pieces will allow your guests to savor the different kinds. It’s better to have a few substantial hunks of cheese rather than too many, as tempting as that may be! Also think in terms of textures. For instance, a basic cheese platter might have an aged hard cheese; a sharp blue; a washed rind (pungent cheese cured in brine or other liquids); and a fresh crumbly cheese. Also consider the types of milk: mix it up with cow, sheep and goat milk cheeses, as they all have unique flavors.
Choose a theme. We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to cheese, but that can also make it feel a bit intimidating when it comes to choosing. Thinking in terms of themes will help you narrow down the selection and make it feel less overwhelming. If you’re new to creating a cheese plate, start with a country (i.e., France, England or the U.S.) and present an array from its different cheese regions. For example, a French cheese plate might feature an aged comté (hard, cow), Ossau Iraty (hard, sheep), Roquefort (blue, sheep), Epoisses (washed rind, cow), brie (soft, cow) and a fresh goat cheese.
Presentation is key. Cheese tastes best at room temperature, so don’t forget to take them out of the fridge at least an hour before serving. Serve attractive slices and pieces of cheese on an equally handsome cheese platter like a simple piece of slate or a minimal cheese board. You can only do so much to keep the cheese from looking messy, but do offer separate knives for each cheese and provide separate plates and knives for each guest. Of course, there is such thing as good cheese etiquette: when serving yourself or others, don’t ever cut off the point of the cheese (called the nose), cut large pieces of cheese lengthwise and don’t purposely avoid the rind. Also, natural soft rinds are meant to be eaten, so don’t be shy!
Embrace the garnishes. Cheese is one of those wonderful foods that are complex in flavors -- some of which need a bit of coaxing. Because cheeses can be so savory, they go well with sweet fruits like grapes, figs, dried apricots, quince and guava pastes. Almonds and walnuts are also good palate cleansers between cheeses. Serve alongside plain (like Carr’s Table Water Crackers) or whole wheat crackers, or a nice crusty baguette.
Imbibe with your fromage. Another way to bring out the best flavors in cheese is to pair it with drink. Red wine and port are traditional, but depending on your guests, consider serving craft beers. Today’s craft beers have complex flavors and aromas that complement cheeses. If you’re feeling adventurous, offer a variety of beers like stouts, IPAs and Belgian beers that can match the lightness and intensity of the different cheeses. If anything, it will definitely make your last course the most interesting part of the meal!
Whether it comes as a finale or an appetizer, a cheese plate is a thoughtful and creative flourish to your dinner spread. And you don’t even have to worry about cooking it!
For more ideas and setup know-how for all kinds of entertaining, head on over to our Party Plans.