Maybe this year you're hosting company for the first time? Or perhaps you're already an expert entertainer but never serve cheese because you just don't know how to make sensical combinations?
Here, all you need to know: 5 basic guidelines, for amateurs and masters alike.
We've assembled countless cheese platters for groups of all sizes and still, we continue to keep the following points in mind when deciding what cheeses to bring home:
- Choose different styles of cheese. Yep, this may seem obvious, but it's the most important part of putting a selection of cheeses together. The variety should range from the following styles: fresh, bloomy, washed rind, semi-soft, semi-hard, hard/very aged, and blue. If you can't differentiate between the styles, just trust your eyes. If they appear aesthetically different, then they will most likely taste different. Go for different ages, textures, degrees of creaminess, and colors.
- Similarly, pick different milk types. Don't limit yourself to all cow, goat, or sheep, even if you hold one milk type particularly close to your heart. Mix it up.
- Stick to an odd number of cheeses. Formal cheese plates normally have an odd number construction. The balance of odd numbers is visually appealing. Try to limit yourself to 3 or 5 cheeses. You don't want to overwhelm your guests. There are some cases when more than 5 cheeses may be appropriate, like a large buffet or if you're planning on having the cheeses take center stage.
- Serve one or two bread-like things to eat the cheese alongside or on top of. Keep it simple, like plain, sturdy crackers and plain baguette. Fruit and nut breads can also be nice. And along with bread, offer one or two accompaniments. Some of them you can even make yourself. One thing should be sweet-- like honey, fig cake, fruit, or chutney-- and the other, savory-- like olives, spiced nuts, or cured meat.
- Purchase the right amount. Especially since cheese can be expensive and it's hard to store properly at home, you don't want to overbuy. Consider how much other food you're serving and at what point in the meal you'll be eating the cheese. If you're having cheese before a meal, you may want to serve a bit more, while if you're serving it afterwards, for dessert or as a course before dessert, you might need a little less. Consider also how intensely cheese-loving your company is. (This may increase your purchase just a bit.) Generally, you should buy about 3/4 to 1 ounce of each cheese per person. So if you're having 4 people over, you'd probably buy about 4 ounces (or 1/4 lb.) of each cheese you serve.
Happy entertaining and cheese plating!
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and for some time she was a Cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City. She is currently an assistant chef on The Martha Stewart Show.