Whether you need appetizers for Thanksgiving or a quick, tasty spread for book club, knowing how to assemble a solid cheese plate definitely comes in handy. We’re sharing four simple approaches you can use to pull off a killer version that’s right for your crew, plus “cheesy advice” that’s both helpful and surprising.
Cheesy Advice: At the Store
Ask for Help (and a Sample!)
There’s a lot of good cheese to be had these days, at both fancy cheese shops as well as regular old supermarkets. But like wine, cheese changes as it ages—ripening and eventually peaking. So if possible, go to a store that has a good-sized cheese counter, ask what’s good right now, and request a sample before you buy. If you like it, chances are good that your guests will, too. (And if they don’t? Hey, more cheese for you!)
Don’t Fret about Pairings
Cheeses that share a plate don’t have to “go” with each other or have a theme or progression. What’s most important is that they each taste good to you. If you’re serving them with other food or drinks, here are three pairing tricks. One: Things that grow together tend to go together—meaning that if you pick a cheese from southern Italy, a wine or olive or fruit from that region likely will complement it nicely. Two: Subtle white wines work with most cheeses. The bolder the cheese, the bolder (and redder) you can go with your wine. Three: You don’t have to serve wine. Beer goes great with cheese, too. Here are some choice recommendations for wine and cheese pairings.
Figure 1 to 2 ounces of cheese per person if you’re serving other appetizers, and 2 to 4 ounces per person if cheese is the main attraction. You read that right. That’s only 1 to 2 pounds, total,for almost any situation involving up to eight people. Because cheese is so rich, a little actually does go a long way.
Cheesy Advice: At Home
Wrap It Right
Cheese that touches plastic eventually starts to taste like it. That’s why fancy cheese shops often scrape off and discard any cheese surfaces that have touched plastic before serving. If you want to minimize the plastic effect without scraping, remove the plastic when you get home, rewrap the cheese in parchment paper, and tuck all your parchment-wrapped cheeses in a big zip-top plastic bag in the fridge. Here's the right way to wrap and store cheese.
Don’t Do Cubes
The flavor within a wheel or block of cheese varies from rind to center, so ideally each serving should include some of the cheese near the rind and some near the center. That’s hard to attain with cubes. Instead, cut rectangular slices or small wedges that go from rind to center or tip. Slices that are thick enough to pick up with your fingers and sink your teeth into, about 1⁄4 inch, are ideal.
Take the Chill Off
Most cheese tastes best at cool room temperature. So you’re going to want to take it out of the fridge 20 minutes to an hour before serving, depending on how hot your room is. (If the cheese starts to sweat or look greasy, it’s getting too warm.)
Cheesy Advice: At the Table
Put It on Something Flat
Any large plate or platter will do, but if you want it to convey “Cheese Plate!” (complete with heavenly music and sunbeams through parting clouds), use one that’s unrimmed. Cheese just looks taller and more impressive on a flat platter or board. You probably have one somewhere in your house. Rustic wooden cutting boards or pizza paddles work nicely. So do pedestal- type cake stands, marble pastry boards, or natural slate slabs.
Leave the Rind On
Some cheese rinds are part of the tasting experience (think smoked, washed-rind, and bloomy-rind cheeses). Others, while technically edible, aren’t so enjoyable to eat (like those that are very hard, very pungent, or coated in wax). Whether to eat the rind is up to you and your guests, but serving cheese with its rind attached helps distinguish one cheese from the next.
People like to know what they’re eating. So unless you want to keep repeating yourself all night, it’s smart to label the cheese plate. If you’re feeling fancy, you can note the kind of milk used, say where the cheese is from, or give a brief description (nutty, smoky, funky, sharp). But really, the type of cheese will do.
Those cute little cheese knives with the prongs on the end often are more useful for serving than cutting. Cheese pros suggest using a chef’s knife to cut firm cheeses into strips or slices that can be eaten in a bite or two, and cutting from rind to tip, center, or opposite rind, so you get a cross section of the cheese. A serrated skeleton cheese knife, with holes in the blade to reduce drag, works well on softer cheeses. For portioning soft or very creamy cheeses like Brie, Camembert, or blue, you may want to use a cheese wire. A paring knife plunged into a very hard or crumbly cheese and twisted makes natural nuggets or shards.
Put a few slabs of a firm frying cheese—such as a Greek Halloumi, Indian paneer, or a Mexican queso blanco—in an oiled skillet and brown on both sides. Add them to your cheese plate. Stand by for OMGs. Or add a caramelized brown cheese, such as Norwegian Gjetost. It’s like cheese and caramel and peanut butter had a baby: sweet, nutty, spreadable, and surprising. —Nicholio