The way I see it, there are four things one can do to create a perfect cheese plate for the holidays. One is to put your favorite 3-5 cheeses on a plate. Eat them. Have your guests eat them (or don’t, if you pick ones that are less crowd-friendly you get more cheese on your leftover roasted turkey sandwiches – hint: funky washed-rinds, turkey and cranberry paninis are delicious). In short- you all don’t really need me- cheese is delicious and it’s hard to go wrong with such perfection.
However, there are three things I learned about making a well-rounded cheese plate throughout the years and I’m not afraid to share what I’ve learned via my dairy obsession.
The Cheese Plate Guide: Three Things.
1. Know your crowd.
If you decide not to just go with your favorite 3 to 5 cheeses, you’re obviously more concerned with others’s culinary comfort than fulfilling just your own cheese desires. Nice. Nice. You might not be an only child like I am. Now it’s time to ask yourself, how comfortable dairy-wise do you think your crowd is? To start, do they like more mild or bold flavors beyond cheese? Does your grandmother sip Millers and Coors like mine does, or does she go for craft beer or tequila (Go Nana!)? Do your friends tend to stay with Chardonnay and Merlot, or do they get experimental in their wine choices and order a volcanic or Jura wine every once in a while? Less you think I only know people who drink, do your people go with the basic turkey and bread stuffing at Thanskgiving, or do they mix it up by smoking or herb-brining a turkey and trying a crazy new stuffing recipe every year? Would they ever consider cooking something else besides a turkey?
If your crowd leans toward the former options (simple beers, familiar grapes, always classic turkey, etc..), it might do to keep your cheese plate plate generally more subtle – less experimental. And then for education and flavor’s sake, throw in a strong cheese, with a side of honey or preserves to remind them know that there are other diary worlds out there just waiting to be explored.
But subtle need not be boring.
Some of my favorite subtle, even mild, cheeses:
- Soft and Creamy: Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam, Brillant Savarin, Rush Creek, La Tur.
- Lightly punchier, goat’s milk: Twig Farm’s tommes and wheels, Garrotxa, Achadinha’s Broncha
- Sheep’s milk: Abbaye de Belloc, Manchego, Everona’s Piedmont
- Semi-hard and Crumbly Styles: Dunbarton blue, Fiscalini Cheddar, Lincolshire Poacher, Comté
If your crowd likes fiercer flavors or you decide to slip in a fun one, consider some of my below favorites. Remember that you can always serve a little sweetness like honey, fruit, or preserves on the side to gently warm hearts.
- Washed Rind: Chalet Cheese Limburger, Époisses, Torta La Serena, Grayson
- Hard and Strong: Achadinha’s Capricious
- Blue: Jean D’Alos Roquefort, Bohemian Blue
2. Keep your selections from three to five cheeses. Don’t overwhelm your guests.
Even one cheese with a couple of pairing options work. If you choose one, go big. Make it decadent. And if you invite me, make sure you have other apps for people to snack on because that one cheese will go fast.
3. Choose different textures, flavors, and milks to bring the number to three or five.
You’ve got goat, cow, sheep, mixed-milk, buffalo. Soft, hard, creamy, crumbly. Subtle, milld, strong. I try to pick at least one goat, cow and sheep, and at least one funky (washed-rind) cheese, and one blue. But that’s just how I roll. It doesn’t matter which milk type is hard or soft, or which milk type is funky or blue. Play around if your crowd is experimental- your creamy pick need not be cow’s milk. Try Kinderhook by Old Chatham, a sheep’s milk triple-creme, for example.
Lastly, serve something for people to put their cheese on. I like bread (or, just slicing the cheese and putting it into my mouth, but let’s assume your folks like cheese vehicles) or simple crackers.
So those are my suggestions. Simple. Clean-cut and straightforward. And remember, you’re eating cheese. Have fun with it.
Next week- I’m getting crafty. Yes, this is different for “It’s Not You, It’s Brie.” I’m gonna show you how to make cheese name tags for your plate with wine corks, so drink up.