You're having a party and want to put out a cheese platter. Where to start? Here's a quick guide to guarantee there's something for everyone and plenty to eat.
The key to a great cheese platter is to focus on serving a variety of textures, flavors, and accompaniments. In general, we count on about 1 ounce per person, per cheese, assuming a selection of 3-5 cheeses. We rarely serve more than 5 cheeses because it becomes overwhelming to the palate. Always serve cheese at room temperature so remove them from the refrigerator at least an hour before serving.
We usually begin with a light, lemony goat cheese, such as Flora from Capriole Goat Cheese. Next, I would pick a rich cow's milk triple cream cheese like MT. Tam or a nice brie-style like Moses Sleeper. Then on to a firm, sheep’s-milk cheese, such as Manchego or Pecorino Tartufo, studded with black truffles. These types are always crowd pleasers.
An Alpine-style should come next. I like Comte or the American counterpart, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, which has a nutty, onion-like flavor. A more adventurous selection would be the brine-washed Oma from the von Trapp Family Farm in Vermont. It has a slight pungency but a pleasing gooey texture. The final cheese should be a blue cheese. Choose a classic blue like Stilton, but also consider an American cheese like Bayley Hazen Blue. Made by Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont, it has a nice buttermilk flavor and a hint of Vermont minerality in the finish.
To accompany a wide range of cheeses, fresh fruit is a natural. Grapes are classic but also consider sliced apples or pears. Fresh figs, when in season, add something special. Seasonal veggies also work well and are fun and unexpected. Preserves or chutney also work well. The sweetness from the preserves complements the saltiness of the cheese. Nuts, such as caramelized walnuts, are a good accompaniment because they add an additional texture to the platter. Stay away from salted nuts because they tend to make everything seem too salty. Take a look in your pantry and in your refrigerator and be inspired by the season.
Finally, the big question, bread or crackers? I say, why not both? A great baguette provides a nice neutral canvas for the cheese and also a nice chewy texture. Bread studded with fruit and nuts complements tangy cheeses like goat and blue. When it comes to crackers I like to offer something plain like an olive oil cracker, as well as something with a little sweetness like Jan's Farmhouse Crisps. This ensures there is something for everyone.