When I’m standing at the cheese counter, I get pretty excited. I’ve been that way since I was a little kid, living on the Ile St Louis in Paris. My mom and I would go from store to store, buying all the ingredients for that night’s dinner, and the visit to the fromagier was the stop I looked forward to the most. I loved strong roquefort, even as a toddler.
My love for stinky cheese hasn’t diminished as I’ve aged, and when I’m crafting a cheese plate for guests, I have to keep myself in check. Limiting choices and keeping things simple is key. When people are presented with too many choices, they revert back to the familiar, overwhelmed.
Offer a Maximum of Three Cheeses
It’s so tempting to share more cheeses with friends, but less is more. Offer three different taste profiles: sharp, assertive, and rich. I also like to make the three cheese textures distinct as well: hard, soft, and oozy. You can go with a geography theme, a type of milk, or just pick three of your favorite contrasting cheeses.
A few cheese trio examples:
- Around the World: A young Humboldt Fog from California (fresh and crumbly), a pretty reddish aged gouda from Holland, and a stinky and creamy Taleggio from Italy.
- France: An aged goat cheese bouton (crumbly and assertive), a triple cream brie (creamy and soft), and a slice of comte (semi-hard and surprisingly nutty).
- Coast to Coast America: Mt Tam Cowgirl Creamery (soft and rich), local Burrata (so creamy and decadent – amazing with balsamic, fig jam or honey), Vermont Creamery Bonne Bouche (aged goat – assertive and great with Sauvignon Blanc).
One Type of Cracker or Bread
Avoid flavored crackers and breads as they’ll only confuse taste buds. Offer plain crackers or thin slices of baguette bread to really let the star of the show, the cheese, shine through.
Don’t Go Crazy with Toppings
It’s fun to try cheese with different toppings, such as honeycomb, fig jam, or quince paste, but again, less is more. Limit yourself to two toppings, such as honey and nuts or pear slices. The toppings are not only a fun way to experiment with cheese, but they also dress up your cheese plate.
Don’t forget to make it easy for your guests to serve. Honey tastes amazing on cheese but can be hard to serve. Having extra honey spoons and cheese spreaders will take away any fear of making a mess. Pre-assemble a few crackers to show them the way.
As far as cheese sources go, start with your local supermarket. I find amazing cheeses at my local Jewel-Osco. Take it up a notch at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s (their triple cream bries are incredible). In Chicago, the recent addition of Eataly has been a godsend. Their cheese department is heaven. I don’t see the need to venture online and order from Murray’s or Cowgirl Creamery, especially in summer, too much can happen in shipping. But if someone were to gift me a cheese of the month club from somewhere, I wouldn’t complain. What could be better than a monthly gift of cheese?
There are no wrong choices to be made when putting together a cheese platter. Keep it simple and trust yourself and your friends will be thrilled to discover your favorite cheeses and toppings.