I love cheese. I've always loved cheese. I love its salty pungency and creamy richness, lactose-intolerance be damned. Despite my love for the stinky dairy, I'm no cheese expert. Unlike some who are able to distinguish the subtle notes of each cheese, and the flavour imparted by the rinds, I'm the type who sorts cheeses into the "like" or "don't like" pile. Liking cheese doesn't have to be a hoity-toity affair reserved for the snobby and/or pretentious.
Having set a few cheese platters at several dinner parties with the help of my fromage-loving friends, allow me to share a few tips. Like everything else in life, cheeses are subjective, and what may taste like heaven to one, is gross and disgusting to another. Here's the how-to for a crowd-friendly cheese platter that'll please the majority.
Most parties call for 3 to 5 cheese varieties, because odd numbers look better on a platter. My magic number is 5. I usually get a soft mild cheese, a semi-hard sharp aged cheese, a hard cheese, a blue, and a flavoured cheese.
Apportion about 3-6 ounces of cheese, in total, per guest. 3 if the cheese is in tasting/nibbling portions, or 6 if a featured appetizer course.
Hard or Soft?
Make sure your platter comprises a range of textures from the soft, to the semi-soft, semi-hard, and hard.
Mild or Sharp?
The platter, ideally should also have a range from the mild to the sharp, so your guests have a spectrum of flavours to sample. The mild won't scare off cheese newbies, while the sharp should satiate the experienced.
Cow, or Goat or Sheep's milk?
Although many experts claim you should have cheeses made from the milk of different animals, I don't think it's a necessary rule to follow. Besides, I'm really not a fan of goat's cheese.
French or Italian or English or Greek or?
The French aren't the only ones who produce excellent cheeses. The UK, Italy and Switzerland produce just as many varieties of cheeses that are just as beloved as a French brie. Think cheddar by the English, burrata from the Italians, and gruyere from the Swiss. While I'm partial to French cheeses, I'll make sure my platter has at least 1 non-French cheese.
- Serve the cheese at room temp, or at the very least, tepid. The cold of the refrigerator dulls the cheese.
- Typical serving boards are wood-based (a chopping board will do just fine), or if you really wanna impress, splurge on a marble cheese board (it's pricey but so gorgeous!).
- Make sure there's lots of cheese knives and forks.
- An insider tip from one of my galfriends, who really really knows her cheeses, is to mill fresh pepper and dip the cheese into it. This works particularly well with blue cheese.
Step 1: pick 1 cheese from each category (I've only featured the ones I like):
For soft cheeses: Brie (French, cow's milk, mild), Camembert (French, cow's milk, mild), Boursin (it's a brand-name cream cheese flavoured with black pepper or garlic)
For semi-soft to semi-hard cheeses: Cheddar (English, cow's milk, sharp), Monterey Jack (American, cow's milk, mild), Comte (French, cow's milk, assertive), Gouda (Dutch, cow's milk, intense)
For hard cheese: Manchego (Spanish, sheep's milk, developed but not strong), Parmesan (Italian, cow's milk, salty), Pecorino (Italian, sheep's milk, salty), Gruyere (Swiss, cow's milk, salty), Mimolette (French, cow's milk, assertive)
Blue: tbh, I like the taste, even if its blue veined aesthetic is a little off-putting. I like the Shropshire Blue (English, cow's milk, sharp), or the Gorgonzola (Italian, cow's milk, buttery)
Bonus: I pick a flavoured cheese, like a truffled cheese or a fruit-studded cheese, this is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser and ensures even the cheese-averse will have something they like.
Step 2: Accessorise! A cheese platter isn't complete without accompaniments:
Bread: fresh bread, bread sticks, or crackers
Nuts: Almonds, pinenuts, sunflower seeds
Fruits: Fresh grapes, dried apricots, dried mangoes
Sweets: Jams, compote, honey, maple syrup
Pickles: Olives, capers
Charcuterie: shaved Parma ham, coppa ham
A sample cheese platter I recently did:
Clockwise from top left: Konig Ludwig Konigskase, German, King's cheese, semi-hard, unpasturised cow's milk fed on hay, mild; Gruyere, Swiss, hard, pasturised cow's milk, nutty and sweet; Isigny Ste Mere French Normandy Brie, soft, pasturised cow's milk, mild and buttery; Saint Paulin, French, semi-soft, pasturised cow's milk, semi-soft, mild, creamy; Cranberry cheese Wensleydale, English, semi-soft, pasturised cow's milk, crumbly and sweet, accompanied by a blackberry jam, honey, granola, almonds, macadamias, plain table crackers and rosemary crackers