Whether you are hosting book club, game night or an actual dinner party, delighting your guests with a solid cheese plate is an easy way to win at hosting.
During a trip home last month, I witnessed my mother wow a table to 12 well-fed people with a fantastic post-dinner cheese plate. In addition to realizing where my desire to host people for dinner came from (thanks Mary), I was inspired to up my cheese game to something beyond just picking up Boursin and Triscuits at the Giant down the street on my way home from work.
If building the perfect cheese board is also an aspiration of yours (it should be), read on!
Start with a strong foundation
While not edible, the cheese platter itself is an important part of the cheese plate experience. Finding one that fits your style and can become a staple of your hosting routine is important so do a little research before settling on one. Whether you decide on wood, granite or marble, there are endless sizes and shapes available at numerous price points so you won't be lacking for options!
A good rule of thumb is to have one knife per cheese. This is helpful for maximizing how many people can access the cheese at one time because, let's be honest, no one likes to feel pressure when it’s their turn and they can't decide how much of each cheese they want to try. It's also practical because it prevents cheese from spreading so that by the end of the meal all three cheese are so intermixed you can't tell them apart. No, you wisely chose a variety of cheeses for your board so let's let them shine without being contaminated by the other cheeses!
Diversity is key
When it comes to the main star of the cheese plate, the cheese itself, Real Simple recommends breaking your choices down into four categories in order to maximize textures and flavors:
- Aged: Aged cheddar, goat gouda
- Soft: Camembert, Brie
- Firm: Manchego, Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Blue: Gorgonzola Dolce, Stilton
These are just a few of my favorites above but don’t feel like you have to do this on your own. Talk to your local cheesemonger (different from your local cheesemonster) and ask for help! They are literally experts in finding cheeses of different textures and milk types so not using their knowledge would be a huge waste. Bonus? They’ll be able to accurately help you estimate how much cheese you need based on how many people you are having over and how much other food will be served.
Never underestimate the impact of good bread and crackers
Now that we have the cheese sorted, on to the second most important part of the cheese experience - the vessel to get it in your mouth! It’s best not to scare your guest away by licking brie off your cheese knife too early on in the night. Since you’re offering your guests a nice selection of cheese, give them some diversity in the bread department as well. On the day of the event, pick up a fresh baguette and slice very thin pieces. Pick up a fun textured cracker like Raincoast Crisps to compliment the soft baguette and let your guests chose their favorite!
It's not only about the cheese
Cheese is the main act for sure but that doesn't mean people don't like the side act as well. While I'm of the belief that meat deserves its own platter, cured meat makes a great addition to any cheese plate!
Consider adding fresh fruit to the rotation to break up the richness of the cheese and offer a sweet break to your pallet. Grapes are my personal go to but apple slices or strawberries would also be delicious.
If you aren’t as keen on fresh fruit with your cheese, go the preserve route and add a little jam or honey on top of your cheese.
So you’ve built this beautiful cheese board and are ready to serve it up to your guests. Congrats! Don’t forget to cut your cheese and place it on the board unrefrigerated for an hour before serving it to bring out all the flavors.
When it comes time to cut into all of your cheese, there's a proper way to go about it. As much as some people seem to think they cut cheese based on their angle to the board, that isn't so. Follow the chart below from Cheese Matters and never get it wrong again!