Entertaining? How about putting together a cheese platter? Gathering around a delightful cheese plate and some wine is becoming more and more popular these days. So this post is all about how to put together a decent cheese platter that everyone will enjoy.
Assembling a cheese platter sounds easy but there are a few rules to follow. Here are basic guidelines to get you started:
Choosing Your Cheese
All you need is three different types of cheese and maybe more if you have a large number of guests but always in odd numbers –it’s a French thing. However, there is no need to overwhelm anyone’s palate. So, aim for different textures like hard, soft, semi-soft, aged or choose your cheese made from different types of milk like goat’s, cow’s or sheep’s milk.
For a well-rounded cheese platter, choose a good variety of cheeses. Here are the suggestions:
• Semi-hard cheeses like cheddar, Colby, Edam and Gouda
• Blue cheese varieties like Roquefort, Danablu (Danish Blue), Cabrales, Gorgonzola and Blue Stilton
• Soft ripened varieties like Brie or Camembert
• Hard or aged varieties like Parmesan, Romano or Asiago
• And if you would like to add a fresh type to your cheese platter I recommend Chevre (fresh goat’s cheese)
How Much Cheese to Serve?
The amount of cheese you serve depends on how many people are invited. Obviously, if you are planning to serve an after dinner cheese platter, you will need less amount of cheese. In that case, allow 60gr of cheese per person. If the cheese platter is the only food on offer, then the amount of cheese would be 90-120gr per person.
Shopping for Your Cheese Platter
Artisan cheese shops can be a bit intimidating with their wide variety of unpronounceable products. However, it is totally expected to ask questions and even taste before you buy. There is a French cheese shop on the ground level of Drummoyne Shopping Centre –factory outlet, to be precise. Every time we go there to do buy some shoes and clothes, we end up buying cheese although cheese is never on our shopping list. You know why? Because they always carry something different and interesting. For us, it’s like education. There are many places like that in Sydney where you can buy artisan cheeses and they help you choose the right type of cheese for your guests.
If you prefer to try your nearest supermarket, that is also fine. I seem to find a great variety of cheeses at our local Wollworths these days. And they are guest-worthy, too.
Sometimes, you get farmers bringing their produce to local markets. This is extra special because they tell you stories of how each block of cheese is made. Again, you taste and buy.
Sweet and Savoury Accompaniments
One thing you need to consider when you choose accompaniments for a cheese platter is this: The other foods you serve with cheese can intensify or even change the flavour of cheese. Some of these accompaniments are sweet, some of them are savoury. I have grouped them together here for you.
• Crackers like water crackers have neutral taste and they are good for soft cheeses. Biscuit crackers, on the other hand, are ideal for hard cheeses. If you have any guests with coeliac disease, serve gluten free varieties like rice or potato crackers.
• Raw, toasted or smoked nuts like walnuts (goes especially well with blue cheese) and almonds
• Marinated olives (always serve with a little spoon and make sure they are pitted)
• Vegetarian deli slices like Tofurky hickory-smoked, smoked ham style, oven roasted, Vegusto, and Sanitarium deli slices are all suitable.
• Fresh fruits like grapes (red, green or even champagne grapes), apple slices, pear slices, berries and figs
• Dried fruits like fig, muscatel clusters and apricots
• Jams like fig jam or quince paste (membrillo)
• Chutneys (they go nicely with hard cheeses in particular)
• Honey (raw or otherwise)
• If you buy a wheel of cheese, you will need a big, sharp and sturdy knife to cut it. A sharp chef’s knife would do the job. Just dip it into hot water and wipe before you cut the wheel.
• To serve cheese, provide a different knife for each type of cheese to avoid mixing all the different cheese flavours together.
• Cheese knife sets these days come with a lot of useful pieces. One of them is serving prongs or forks. They make it easier to lift cheese slices from the board onto the individual plates.
• For cutting soft cheeses, either use a wire cutter, spatula or a knife with holes. Because soft cheeses are stickier than the others.
• Use the right knife for the right cheese. Please refer to the photo.
• If you’re serving marinated cheese in oil, a small fork or a spoon will suffice.
• Cheese knives with short and stubby blade and cheese planes are ideal for slicing hard cheeses like Parmesan.
Wine and Cheese Pairing
Wine and cheese pairing is actually a huge topic and should be tackled in a separate post. Still, I need to talk about it here as wine and cheese are inseparable.
Here’s the problem though: you have an assortment of cheeses –at least three—and each one has its own characteristics as well as its corresponding wine. This makes wine pairing tricky for a cheese platter. So, we need to focus on one type of wine that will be broad enough to complement all three cheeses. And for that, I have two recommendations for you:
- Riesling –especially off-dry—is one great choice because it’s low in alcohol yet sweet with tropical fruits. Acidity and mineral content make it a broad enough to pair with many types of cheese.
- Alsatian Gewürztraminer is another great choice; it’s dry and yet floral. So it would create a nice contrast to savouriness of cheese.
• Remove cheese from the fridge and let it rest on the counter for at least 30 minutes before serving –an hour is better—as cold deadens the flavour of the cheese.
• Let your guests slice their own semi-hard cheese. Pre-slicing cheese allows it to dry out around the edges.
• Hard cheeses like parmesan will crumble a little and it’s OK.
• Rennet is used in the production of cheese and is derived from stomach lining of calves. Many cheeses we buy today are made with rennet. However, I see “suitable for vegetarians” on the label more often these days. Some vegetarians tolerate the fact that their cheese is made with animal rennet but some don’t. If you are catering for vegetarians it may be wise to include cheese made only with vegetarian rennet.