Cheese Plate 101

Appetizers, Meatless, Party Food / Thursday, January 29th, 2009


The three cheeses you see above are Carr Valley Cheese’s Mobay (a Wisconsin cheese that’s half goat’s milk and half sheep’s milk with a layer of ash in between), Sweet Grass Dairy’s Sevenwood (a Georgia raw cow’s milk cheese washed in balsamic vinegar) and Cypress Grove Chevre’s Purple Haze (a California fresh goat cheese flavored with lavender and fennel pollen–and a 25th Annual American Cheese Society competition winner).

Did I know about any of these cheeses before taking on the Barefoot Bloggers challenge to create a Cheese Plate? Noooooooo. I picked this challenge, because the cheese counter at Whole Foods was a total mystery. Because I was reading great things about American artisanal cheeses but hadn’t tried any. And because, when you have a large group of people all making the same recipe, you seize the opportunity for variety where you can get it. In this case, straight from the cow’s teats. Or the goat’s. Or the sheep’s.

We don’t judge.

There’s no real recipe for a cheese platter, but if you follow Ina Garten’s tips in “The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook,”you’ll put together something dangerously respectable.

Barefoot Tip #1: Choose an interesting assortment of cheeses—hard sharp cheeses, soft creamy ones and pungent blue cheeses. Look for an interesting mix of flavors, textures and colors.

Most experts suggest limiting your number of cheeses (choose three to five) and picking a theme (i.e. Spanish cheeses, French cheeses, one cow’s milk/one goat’s milk/one sheep’s milk), but it’s still easy to get overwhelmed with the options. There are also some great tools online, like Artisanal Cheese’s new CheeseClock™, a graphic illustration showing how to put together a balanced cheese plate, and the Wisconsin Cheese Cupid, which focuses on cheese and beverage pairings. But if you have access to a cheese shop or a grocery with actual people manning a cheese counter, ask a cheesemonger for suggestions and samples. And don’t feel pressured to buy a wheel when 2 ounces will do.

Barefoot Tip #2: Be sure to have a platter or wooden board large enough to hold the cheeses without crowding them. Arrange the cheeses with the cut sides facing out and with several small cheese knives.

But before you plate the cheeses, you’ll want to unwrap them and let them come to room temperature. This should take about an hour.

Barefoot Tip #3: To finish the platter, add sliced breads or crackers and green leaves.

Whether you choose plain, multigrain or otherwise flavored breads or crackers is up to you. Many cheese experts recommend plain crusty breads and crackers, so they don’t interfere with the taste of the cheese. But if you can’t imagine eating cheese without a stack of Breton Multigrain crackers, by all means, bring the crackers hither.

Barefoot Tip #4: Overall, the simpler the design, the better the platter looks. Group each kind of cheese together and add one large bunch of green or red grapes in the center to create a visual focal point. Fill in the spaces with lots of crackers or small slices of bread.

Other popular accompaniments include nuts, figs (fresh, preserved or baked in a cake), apple or pear slices, olives, quince paste, fruit preserves and honey. I “filled in the spaces” with spiced pecans, homemade white crackers, honey and grapes.

Before this challenge, my idea of a cheese platter would have been that grocery tray of cubed cheeses that you pass on the way to the good stuff at a party. Now, my curiosity is officially sparked.

Thanks, Ina.


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23 thoughts on “Cheese Plate 101

  1. It’s a mystery to me too, so thank you for the inspiration! I’ve been thinking of making the blue cheese-stuffed pears from her new cookbook. My favorite cheese platter (or cheese course) tip came from a sexy young French waiter in a snooty Paris restaurant, because our selections were to him a little too boring: “Mais madame, you muust trry some of ze stinky cheese too!”

  2. I’ve got to admit, cheese platters scare me, and I didn’t do the cheese platter bonus Barefoot week because I was afraid that I’d have The Ugly Cheese Platter. And who wants to have that reputation? But you really make it look easy. It is simple, elegant and gorgeous. I might do this yet. Actually, can I just copy your platter?

  3. So beautiful. Cannot help but think your daddy would ask where is the “plastic cheese?” Love stinky cheese.

  4. fabulous job!! got your photo this morning and i’ll be posting all of the ones i receive on the BB blog this weekend. thanks for choosing such a creative bonus recipe!!

  5. Ive been getting more and more interested in the idea of a good cheese platter appy… thanks for the inspiration!

  6. I love these ideas, especially the one on limiting the number of cheeses and choosing a theme. I never know how many to get and I always end up getting waaay too much for a platter.

  7. Well howdy, you’re representing a local favorite of mine – Cypress Grove. Purple Haze is a beauty. I love the sound of Mobay, I’ll have to try it.

  8. I don’t think that I’ve met a cheese I don’t like, the stinkier the better! I love the BFC episode when she makes the cheese platter. Yours is beautiful and there’s lots of rhyme to your reason.

  9. Beautiful Platter! I love that you did American cheeses too. Great minds…;-) I was torn between the Cyprus Grove Purple Haze and the Truffle Tremor which i got for my platter. Now I want to go back and get the Purple Haze and try it too! Thanks for a great pick that got me out of my comfort zone too!

  10. Thank you for giving me a reason to buy some yummy cheese. I make cheese platters all the time, but this time I really focused on my selections rather than just throwing something together. Yours looks great! I love honey with cheese. One of my favorite restaurants serves their cheese with a truffled honey, it’s divine.

  11. I don’t think I’ve ever had a cheese that I didn’t love! That’s my weakness instead of sweets. Thanks so much for sharing this great selection of cheeses and beautiful presentation. I’m glad that we found your blog!

  12. Thanks for the challenge – I still have some leftovers to nibble on! (And I’ll have to look out for your cheeses – they look delicious.

  13. I’ve had a cheese revelation in the past year and this platter is just about my favorite meal. Cheese and crackers (with fruit and olives) is my kryptonite. The lactose intolerance is brutal but it’s worth it.

  14. I love making a nice cheese platter for entertaining or special occasions! I never thought about adding pecans but sometimes I’ll do dried fruit.

  15. […] bites and (wheat) crackers. Cheese platters do not have to be boring.  There are so many cheeses to choose from – go for different […]

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