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Jan 11, 2011 04:48 AM

Help with Cheese Platters

Cheese has become so important because of the amount of vegans/vegetarians, diabetics, and less dessert eaters who would rather substitute with cheeses after dinner. I have always put out cheese in a non-creative sort of way (brie, cheddar with grape clusters on the side) or left it up to someone else or caterer.

I'd like to learn more about the cheese groups and creative ways of serving. There are so many ways of doing this, and I only know that like cheeses should be together.

What are your favorites, how do you like to serve cheese for gatherings? What kind of serving trays/platters do you use? Any websites, articles or threads that you know of related to this would be a great help.

I will list my favorite cheeses, and as you can see they are all different types. There might be a way to bring these cheeses together so that they don't clash with one another, maybe by adding some that I haven't tried yet.

My choices are few: Stilton, Cheddar, Gouda, Parmiggiano Reggiano, Manchego, (Brie if I must). I may be forgetting some but would like to add more to this list. I'm looking forward to your suggestions. Thanks all!

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  1. one rule is : soft, hard, smelly. (um, well, that's the abbreviation of the rule ;-).

    for serving, ii like to place the large pieces of cheese on wood boards, or for fancier events, on pretty porcelain platters, perhaps on those grape leaves (real or those parchment ones specially made for the purpose ). lidia likes to have a whole big parmesan wheel for her party guests to dig into. (yeah. when i'm lidia and can get a big discount!).

    something sweet is good to have nearby, and you can't go wrong with grapes. there is also quince paste ("membrillo"). apricots and apples are also good (acidulate the apples if it is going to be on a buffet. this diminishes the best apple flavor, though). walnuts and honey are also very, very lovely with certain cheeses. the interplay of those flavors and textures is magical.

    i like a couple of cheese sites in particular, one is "murray's" and there is a french cheese site and one for spanish cheese . there are lots of great sites around.

    and to go with all that cheese, new wine glasses for good wine! i'm currently loving these similar to the ones on "avec eric."

    3 Replies
    1. re: alkapal

      Alkapal, I'm familiar with those leaves, someone gave them to me long ago; a great reminder to purchase these.

      But truly the articles above are leaving too much up to me and I think I need to be handheld. I can't afford to do a course right now (or even a book for that matter). Yes the wine glasses are a great suggestion!

      1. re: alkapal

        I second the honey with cheese. Read about it in the LCBO magazine and it recommended it with certain cheeses, however I love it with most cheeses.

      2. A good cheese platter will have a progression from mild to "in your face" and it will include a variety of textures. There should be something on either the table or the platter that allows the eaters to cleanse their palate before moving to the next cheese in the sequence. And finally, the cheese varieties should be complimented by the wine you will be drinking with the course. If you have a cheese shop nearby, try to sample some cheeses before you purchasing. I have found that the easiest way to build a cheese platter for a meal is to stick with the country of the meal's cuisine. So, if you are making a Spanish meal, Spanish cheeses, etc.

        And one final thought, cheese is not vegan and will not be enjoyed by your vegan friends.

        7 Replies
        1. re: smtucker

          I could see about staying with the type of cuisine, but what about cocktail parties where you have a mixture?

          1. re: lilgi

            depending on the cocktails, you're likely not so worried about pairing them with food. if that's the case, a small variety and a nice assort of textures is still best.

            1. re: hotoynoodle

              Okay, in some articles they want you to keep the textures the same? Maybe I'm just confused...

              1. re: lilgi

                That's bum advice, IMO. The last thing you want is the "same" cheeses. I usually just stick to the ol' 1 hard, 1 soft, 1 stinky. I love Manchego, so that usually finds a spot somehow, too.

                1. re: invinotheresverde

                  Yes, whenever I serve Manchego it seems to go over well with everyone, maybe because it's not a strong flavor and it's got great texture with crackers.

            2. re: lilgi

              Yea. That is my weakness.... living in France as a child, I don't think of cheese as something to serve during the cocktail hour. Generally, the cheese served with cocktails seems to fall into the soft category- brie, camembert, herbed, etc.

              And your original post did ask specifically for the cheese course within a meal.

              1. re: smtucker

                i don't like it before dinner either as it dulls the palate and people get too easily full. a cocktail party is something different, although i tend not to serve a cheese plate for that either. for me, only after dinner, and only with certain people.

          2. Wow...I want to be in your social circles. I have never experienced a "progression of cheeses" Is that like a delicious parade ?
            Usually my "progression of cheese" is, set to room temp, cut cheese, place in mouth.

            10 Replies
            1. re: rochfood

              the room temp is important because it really allows the flavors to show.

              if it's a small group, i'll usually do one hard, one soft and one bleu. i offer nuts, thinly sliced apple or pear and dried fruits, like apricots or prunes. if i have time i often make this pan de higo a few days ahead:


              i prefer plain white baguette slices or mild crackers, instead of assertively flavored breads or toast.

              i'll usually also have some lemon or almond cookies on another platter.

              matching the cheeses of a region with local wines is a great shortcut. loire valley wines with goat cheeses for example.

              this site, from artisanal in nyc, has some wonderful info.


              unless you've got a good cheesemonger, or are willing to fork out some dough at whole paycheck for hand-made cheeses, i wouldn't bother with a platter of supermarket brie and cheddar, quite honestly.

              1. re: hotoynoodle

                Hotoynoodle, your post is really what I'm looking for! Thanks so much for posting that recipe for fig cake; I'll be looking into that.

                I like the idea of putting out prunes very much, more than figs, grapes and the others mentioned. What kind of nuts do you like to offer? What kinds of crackers? How would you serve jam/preserves? I am very excited about your post!

                1. re: lilgi

                  you're welcome. that fig "cake, while not a cake at all, is da bomb and extra easy to make.

                  personally i'm not crazy about grapes with cheese. here in new england we don't often get great grapes. they're very one-dimensional, so i rarely eat them at all.

                  nuts, usually almonds or i sometimes make chinese spiced walnuts. or fennel/seed brittle.

                  i don't serve jams or preserves. too cloying. the membrillo mentioned above is more of a paste and quite good with manchego. plain white baguette, sliced very thin and red oval stone ground crackers are usually it. occasionally i will offer dark bread with raisins or figs in it for bleu cheese. i like the bread part to be a supporting player, with the cheese as the star. so it's excellent quality, but the flavor isn't pronounced.

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    Next time I find myself at Fairway (very soon I suppose) I will be looking closely at the crackers. I get the baguette, just not a fan of it and would rather have options. ALTHOUGH, I love that Sarabeth peach/apricot jam so much it would go well with baguette. I know there are hundreds of other more sophisticated options as far as jams/preserves, but I'm very simple come to that. I want to heat that up slightly and use it as a topping on my mini-cheesecakes as well. I would still serve the jam in addition to the fig cake and prunes.

                    Chinese spiced walnuts eh? What kinds of olives, haha! Maybe a recipe for dark bread with fruit might be in order as well, I'll have to check.

                    Edit: I forgot to ask, what are your cheese preferences if you don't mind sharing?

                    1. re: lilgi

                      any jam should be room temp. don't offer warmed items with the cheese, which should be as it has been said room temp.

                      now, i have to walk that back in a way. i LOVE a warmed in the oven brie round with butter and sliced (and thus toasted) almonds on top, then slathered on crusty baguette slices. 'twas a mark of our fridays in georgetown college days.... we felt like we were "livin' the life," and indeed we were. my housemates worked at all the very best spots in the g-town resto scene, but we'd love to gather around this simple delight.

                      1. re: lilgi

                        now i'm wondering what it is you're planning? if it's a cheese and desser party, i would definitely NOT do a cheesecake. i'm in a dairy coma just imagining that. opt for contrast lie lemon or ginger-based desserts.

                        you're not matching the jam with the baguette, the idea is not overwhelm any of the cheeses. i have had apricot jam served over a warm round of brie, which was lovely, but it was also the only cheese. so don't tart up the plate with too many accompaniments. a little something salty, like nuts, and a little something sweet lithe pan de higo, or dried fruit, is plenty. however, i sometimes do like a dark bread with bleu cheese and it does offer a nice visual contrast on the table.

                        an easier question to answer might be what cheese i don't like. ;) we have some excellent cheese shops here, so i buy what looks best, or something unusual. cheese like cheddar and muenster are fine for everyday, but i'd be utterly bummed to get that on a cheese plate.

                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                          I'm not planning anything yet, but trying to get a feel of doing a cheese/dessert course which I've never done. I've only done something real simple in the past with buffets, nothing fancy, or someone else did it, and it was always for cocktails. But truth be told, the cheese platter area in either case was always my weakness since I haven't tried that many. Feel free to correct as much as you like below and sorry if it's a long post; I figure it's the best way to get a feel for planning something like this and I also have a bit of shopping to do.

                      2. re: hotoynoodle

                        Apologies in advance for the digression, but re: grapes in New England, I like to raise the example of concord grapes (not necessarily as a cheese complement, but great on their own).

                        1. re: limster

                          Yum. Also, Niagra grapes are similarly delicious with cheese. In fact, they may be the only fruits I go for first, even when there are great cheeses out. : )

                        2. re: hotoynoodle

                          Hotoy: Can I ask how you make the chinese spiced walnuts? I'm intrigued by the idea.

                  2. If you could all be a little more specific and tell me what kinds of cheeses you prefer so that I have something to go on, what kind of platters you like, etc. it would help me immensely!

                    1. When I make a cheese platter, I try to put out a variety of cheese ranging from popular semi-softs to salty aged cheeses. Purists would say that you should offer a progression from creamy cheeses to the strongest flavored cheese on offer. On the other hand, I think it is more visually interesting to vary the shapes and sizes of your wedges, so rather than arrange by pungency, I take the largest wedges and intersperse them with smaller, more flavorful (and less popular) cheeses. Additional negative space can be filled with complementary fruits, olives, preserves and condiments.

                      If I were putting together a favorites platter just for myself, I'd have to include Saint-André, Gloucester, Muenster, gouda and halloumi served with lychees, pickalilli, tomato chutney, mint and lemons.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: JungMann

                        Thanks for the idea of lychees! But from your post I gather that you don't group cheese according to their family? For instance, I read somewhere that you would group edam with swiss, gouda, etc. or parmigiano, romano, asiago, etc? The way you do it makes it so much easier for me.

                        1. re: lilgi

                          Some people would group families of cheeses, but I think that would work for a far larger selection than the 4-6 cheeses I normally have on my 18" cheese board. I have separate knives for the different cheeses to minimize the risk of contaminating a mild cheese with bits of a strong cheese and I would agree with hotoynoodle that one ought to segregate runny cheeses.

                        2. re: JungMann

                          the only problem with this is that a strong very soft or runny cheese, like epoisses, will then be spilling all over something more mild, like a comté.

                          i think it's very important to keep cheese of similar texture together and runny cheeses to get their own vessel. separate serving utensils for each cheese and nothing too crowded or it becomes too hard to slice and turns into a visual and flavor disarray.

                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                            I also separate soft, runny or stinky cheese!

                            My new favorite "separate plate" is a nice blue Gorgonzola on a pretty (colorful) dish, drizzled with spiced honey and sprinkled with marcona almonds.

                            My old favorite was a nice log of fresh goat cheese, drizzled with fig jam and sprinkled with crisped prosciutto pieces.

                            I also keep crackers and bread simple when I want to highlight the cheese.

                            Wow, this thread is making me drool.

                            1. re: sedimental

                              I forgot about goat cheese, but I like so many that I haven't listed. Also, I agree that I like blue cheese separate from the rest. I prefer Stilton but I like gorgonzola too, and I don't like soft blue cheese.