Ok, I am not an expert on most things, but since I was a little kid, there are a few things I know I can do well.
I can write well. I can put on eye makeup without the assistance of a mirror. I can smell when milk is even slightly sour. I can write my name using a pen between my toes. I can make an excellent mix tape … and that was back in the day, when you made a mix tape from recording songs off of the radio, and you had to be super-fast to hit the “stop” button before the DJ came on, talking over the end of the song you were trying to record. Nowadays the kids have it much easier with the mP3s and playlists. But I digress.
And I can make an excellent cheese plate. This isn’t hubris or boasting, it’s a simple fact. Part of the reason is because it’s nearly impossible to make a BAD cheese plate … I mean, honestly, just take a look at Pinterest one of these days and search for the term “cheese plate.” (Or check out mine right here! Shameless plug!)
Some people seriously pull out a pretty platter, slice a few bits of cheese and meat, and call it a day. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you’re going to do it …. if you’re going to have a great party and you want to really hit it out of the park … there are a few simple guidelines to follow.
1) Have a good selection.
Seriously, people. No matter how much you love that one awesome cheese, not everyone at your party is going to like it. Present a blend of hard cheeses, soft cheeses, and stinky cheeses, and switch up the types of cheese as well … you want some sheep’s milk cheese, some goat cheese and some cow’s milk cheese.
My favorite local cheese shop keeps a basket near the register full of the odds and ends and weirdly-shaped chunks of cheese they have left over. This is an excellent way to sample certain cheeses you might not otherwise try.
2) The cheese is just the star. It needs a limo.
Don’t forget the rest of the plate! You want a nice crusty bread and at least one type of cracker, and some vehicles for cheese that are fresh fruits or vegetables.
Try mixing up different breads and crackers, and different fruits and vegetables like apples, pear, strawberries, endive, celery, carrot sticks, and radishes (slice them lenthwise).
Always have at least one savory spread and one sweet spread on the plate. I love the selection of jams and toppings from the Friend in Cheeses Jam Company, a small buisness that specializes in things that go great with cheese. (Seriously, how awesome is that?) More than once, their amazing creations like salted watermelon jelly, strawberry tarragon conserve, carrot marmalade and pisco pear butter have been the best parts of my cheese plates.
Meat items are also important to keep a good balance on your platter. The salty and sweet punch of bacon jam, or the smoky depth of smoked chicken liver pate or storebought liverwurst, are excellent accompaniments to most cheeses.
3) It’s a carpenter, not his tools. But get some nice tools.
Ok, not crazy tools. Or expensive tools. Just things like a tiny cheese grater so you can grate your cheese on the spot. Or a few of those tiny forks and knives for spreads and cheeses. Just a handful of toothpicks for your olives and your bits of meat, and a few small bowls or rammekins for those jams and jellies.
4) Be an artist about it.
I usually set up my larger selections on a handmade wooden board, but it’s certainly not necessary. A cracked plate works as well as a fancy decorative platter. What matters is how delicious everything looks.