7 Simple Tips to Create a Great Cheese Plate

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Do you technically love the idea of a cheese plate for dessert, but find yourself staring blankly in the cheese department, overwhelmed by the sights, sounds…and prices? Never fear, here are seven tips to help compose a plate that's delicious without breaking the bank.

Why a cheese plate for dessert? Not only is a cheese plate super easy on prep, but it makes for an impressive display that always wins with wow factor. At dinner parties, the communal experience of sharing a cheese plate keeps conversation flowing and easily transports to the living room, where it goes fabulously with that glass of wine you're still working on. While I love capping off a great meal with something sweet or gooey, a thoughtful arrangement of cheeses and spreads always feels like a luxury.

Love the idea, but find yourself staring blankly in the cheese department, overwhelmed by the sights, sounds…and prices? Never fear, here are seven tips to help compose a plate that's delicious without breaking the bank:

  1. Limit yourself. Think of everything as either aged, soft, firm, or blue. Choose three distinct options that create a variety of textures and flavors. Still feeling overwhelmed? Go with a theme, like Spanish cheeses or different milk types, to reign in all the choices. Don't be afraid to ask questions — if I worked at a cheese shop, you better believe I would have tried everything and have a good recommendation.
  2. Hit the odds and ends bin. Many gourmet grocers, like Whole Foods, package smaller bits of cheese in an odds and ends bin. Priced around $1 to $3, this is a great way to sample something at the top of your price range, or even shop for a smaller one or two-person cheese plate.
  3. Keep it at room temperature. Plate cheeses an hour before serving and leave at room temperature — this way the soft cheeses will slice and smear like magic.
  4. Bread or crackers? Both. Sliced baguette is a great standby, but this is also a perfect time to try out denser breads with dried fruit or nuts, in addition to crackers or breadsticks.
  5. Keep spreads and accompaniments simple. There's no denying that $9 jar of artisanal fig spread wouldn't be fabulous, but if you're on a budget or rifling through the cabinets there's nothing wrong with a small pot of honey. If it's a cheese plate before dinner, include something savory like grainy mustard or olives. For dessert, stick to sweet spreads and add a handful of almonds or dried fruit on the side.
  6. Quarantine the really stinky cheese. Once, at a party with a wedge of particularly stinky blue cheese, I walked up to a group of chatting friends only to realize they were all speculating which of the other guests might have removed their shoes. Eek! Keep anything really pungent separated, so as not to overwhelm the other offerings.
  7. Lacking the proper cheese tools? Just set out a separate knife for each cheese — something sharper for the harder options, and a butter knife for creamier options. If you've done a good job selecting the spread, we guarantee no one will mind the unofficial tools!

Happy cheese plating!

(Image: Flickr user Robert S. Donovan licensed under Creative Commons)

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