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DIY Hacks to Build the Perfect Cheese Plate

Pomegranate seeds are a colorful and tasty accompaniment to a fall cheese tray.

Celebrate with Cheese

Pomegranate seeds are a colorful and tasty accompaniment to a fall cheese tray.

Pomegranate seeds are a colorful and tasty accompaniment to a fall cheese tray.

Kick off your Thanksgiving feast with a beautiful cheese and salumi tray.  It’s an impressive and easy option for pre-meal snacking.  It’s also an always appreciated addition to someone else’s holiday gathering if you are attending as a guest.

A lot of our customers are intimidated about making a DIY cheese tray. They aren’t sure what “goes together” or how much to serve.  Here’s the good news: there are no rules.  There are some guidelines that can help, but even those were made to be broken.

Here are our tips on creating an impressive cheese tray.  Don’t want to do the work?  You can always order one from us

The Platter

Your first decision is what to put the cheese on.  We prefer a wooden or a slate board.  Let’s be honest, most cheese is a shade of white so a darker platter makes the cheese stand out.

Selecting the Cheeses

Follow the “Rule of Odd Numbers. Plan on three cheeses for a small tray, five for a medium tray and seven for a large tray. Just like in landscaping, odd numbers of cheeses make for the best visual presentation.

Include a variety of flavors and textures. Include a hard, aged cheese (like an aged Gouda or an aged cheddar); an alpine cheese (like Alpha Tolman)  a gooey, indulgent cheese (like Rosie’s Robiola or Jasper Hills Moses Sleeper), a soft, rich cheese (like Delice de Borgogne or Mt. Tam) and a blue (like West West Blue or Great Hills Blue).

That way, there’s something for everyone.  (Our Cheese 101 guide is a great way to learn more about the various cheese categories.)

Mix your milks. Another way to create a varied cheese plate is by using cheese made from different kinds of milk: Sheep, goat and cow milk cheeses will offer a range of flavors.

Themes are optional. Want some more ways to organize your platter?  Have fun with it.  You could focus on a region—all American artisan cheeses, all Vermont cheeses.  You can focus on a single milk—all sheep’s milk cheeses.  The only real “don’t” here is don’t do a tray of just one style of cheese.  We love brie, but we wouldn’t necessarily recommend a platter with three styles of brie.

Try before you buy. Not sure what you want to include? That’s the best part of a shop like ours.  You can come in and taste anything you like in the case to get exactly what you want.

How Much?
Plan on 3 to 4 ounces per guest (less if the platter is an appetizer for a larger the meal).

Cheese + Salumi Go Together

Cheese + Salumi Go Together

Should I add meat? 

Meat and cheese go together like peanut butter and jelly. Charcuterie is a tasty and colorful addition to any cheese board.  We suggest adding one to three cured meats.  Here too you want some variety.  Our go-to choices are prosciutto, coppa and speck. But you can get adventurous and add some spreadable nduja or some pate.

Accompaniments

Cheese is strong, so you want to include some other tastes on the plate to relax your guests’ palates. This is where you get to have fun.  Plus, this is a great way to add color to your cheese board.

The go-to’s:  If you want to keep it simple, choose some nuts (marcona almonds, candied walnuts), dried fruit (cranberries, figs, apricots) and olives.

Fresh fruits and vegetables.  You can’t go wrong with grapes or fresh figs.  We also love colorful cherry tomatoes or sweet peppers. Pears are a classic as well. This time of year, pomegranate seeds are a stunner! We also like fresh persimmons.

Jarred condiments. Jams and preserves or savory chutneys add flavor and color.  Friends in Cheeses jams are an easy pair, and we’ve got lots of them.  Think Salted Watermelon Jam.  Or try some tart cherry and almond compote.  The options are pretty much limitless.

Classic combinations. There are some tried-and-true pairings that are always crowd pleasers.  Chunk up some Parmigiano Reggiano and drizzle it with balsamic syrup.  Same thing with honey and blue cheese.  Cornichons and mustard are great companions to charcuterie.

Pickled Stuff.  Pickled fruits and vegetables are another option.  But think beyond the cucumber.  We like pickled beets, pickled peaches, pickled okra and more.

Cheese-friendly recipes.  Want to go all out? Include some caramelized onions (great with cheese) or roasted red peppers.  Two great books (see below) have hundreds of ideas of easy sides you can make to pair with cheese.

Don’t forget the carbs! Throw in some sliced baguette and crackers and you are all set. (You probably want both, by the way.)

Serving

Some final tips to make sure your platters tastes as awesome as it looks.

1. Take the cheese out of the refrigerator 1-2 hours before serving so it can come to room temperature. That’s when it has maximum flavor.

2. Cut semi-hard and hard cheeses into wedges or cubes instead of serving them in big chunks. Exposing them to air enhances their flavor.

3. Set out a separate knife for each cheese so you aren’t mixing flavors.

4. Add some wine or champagne or beer! (See our pairing guides for some help there.)

To cut or not to cut?

The last question is whether to cut your cheese or not on your platter.  To some degree, it’s a matter of choice. But it’s also a practical consideration.  If it’s three friends, eating cheese and drinking wine at an informal gathering, we tend to not cut.  Cutting dries out the cheese a bit.  And since we are all friends, we should be comfortable cutting off a piece from a wedge while chatting.

Spoonable Rush Creek Reserve

Spoonable Rush Creek Reserve

And then there are some cheeses that just work better when served whole.  We’re thinking of rounds of Rush Creek Reserve, where our preferred presentation style is to cut the top off this ooey-gooey treat.

But for larger events and cocktail parties, we say cut the cheese.  At those larger gatherings, people usually have a wine glass in their hand and asking them to cut cheese isn’t really practical.

If you decide to cut, here’s a handy guide on how to cut every shape.

Don’t want to do it on your own? Order a platter here or call us at 303/330-2248!

Want to do a deeper dive on putting together an awesome cheese tray? Here are two of our favorite books.

Cheese PlateThe Art of the Cheese Plate: Pairings, Recipes, Style, Attitude by Tia Keenan.  Tia tells the stories behind the cheeses she selects and offers a recipe for a pairing for each cheese and the platters she composes are beautiful.

Composing Cheese PlateComposing the Cheese Plate. Fromager Brian Keyser and pastry chef Leigh Friend set out to change the game with their NYC Casellula Cheese and Wine Cafe and they did.  In their book, they share their secretes to creating surprising and delicious cheese boards at home.  And they include 70 recipes for accompaniments.