Chow Time:How to Put Together a Cheese Plate…

I love cheese from the Loire Valley to Vermont, but inexperienced in serving and selecting cheese.  So, I went to the experts at Formaggio Kitchen to find out how one properly presents and chooses the ideal mix for a cheese plate.

(Reprinted with courtesy from Formaggio Kitchen’s Cheese Blog – Author MerryBaker)

A common question we get on the cheese counter is about how to put together a cheese plate, be it for a cocktail party or as a dinner course. There aren’t any rules per se – after all, it really comes down to what you will enjoy eating!  That said, when customers ask, we generally offer the following recommendations:

It’s usually nice to include at least one cheese from each of the three major milk categories: cow, sheep and goat.

Similarly, we like to include a variety of textures. For example, one might choose something smooth and spreadable (think Camembert, Brie or a chèvre), something semi-soft (for example, Tomme Crayeuse or Ardrahan) and something on the firmer side (ComtéCalcagno or a Boerenkaas).

Color is also something to consider when designing your platter. We try to choose cheeses that are visually diverse – from the pure white of a bloomy-rinded triple-crème, to the black of an ash-coated chèvre, to the orange hue of a butterscotchy, aged Gouda. It is also worth thinking about what you’ll be serving your cheese on. The goal is to create a visual contrast between the serving surface and the cheeses themselves. At the shop, we generally use black slates when putting together a platter. At the end of 2009, we started selling Brooklyn Slate Co. cheese slates which are really beautiful (and dishwasher safe!).

A bonus to the Brooklyn Slates – they not only provide a great contrast for your cheeses but, included with each slate, is soapstone chalk which can be used to write the names of each cheese directly on the slate itself. Last Christmas, several of my fellow mongers purchased these slates as gifts for others and, in most cases, bought one (or two!) for themselves as well. The Brooklyn slates come in black and grey but are also available in red and green.

Brooklyn Slate Co. cheese slate

While keeping color, texture and milk type in mind, we generally recommend including between 3-5 cheeses on your platter. Three cheeses allows for a good level of diversity and five cheeses ensures that you can hit all of the major milk groups while giving yourself room to include something a bit more funky – a washed rind or a blue cheese, for example. The reason we tend to cap the platter at five cheeses is because, if you have any more than that, it gets a bit overwhelming for the palate.

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