Whether served as a savory tidbit to start or finish the meal, or as the star of a casual gathering, cheese is always a delicious offering. Read on for our tips on the best ways to serve cheese, how much to serve per person, and accompaniment ideas.
Building a Cheese Plate
You can serve one carefully chosen cheese and let its extraordinary qualities shine, but in general an assortment of three cheeses offers variety without overwhelming guests. When making your selections, diversity can be created in different ways: cheese age or type (one bloomy rind, one semifirm, one blue); milk type (one cow’s milk, one goat’s milk, one sheep’s milk); country of origin (one French, one Spanish, one English); or even locale (three from California). Ultimately, you’ll want a range of flavors and textures, from creamy and buttery to crumbly and salty, and a mix of shapes and colors. Choose accompaniments to match the cheese, season, and occasion, keeping flavor and texture in mind, and don’t be afraid to ask your cheesemonger for recommendations; they can guide you to select the perfect cheeses for your plate.
Arrange cheeses so that they are easy to cut, such as laying a wedge on its side. Consider making the first cut yourself, as a guide, slicing so that each piece will have a little bit of rind. This helps avoid an empty chunk of rind at the end of serving. Always let cheese come to room temperature before eating it. This may take up to a couple of hours. Serve cheese on its own or with spreads like chutneys, jams, or tapenades; sweet sides like honeycomb or fresh, dried, or candied fruits; or salty bites, such as olives or nuts. Always have plenty of fresh baguette or rustic crackers alongside.
A large platter, marble slab, or wooden board can accommodate three of four cheeses. Allow ample room for easy cutting. For a more formal presentation, you can pass individual cheese boards among guests. Give each cheese its own knife, so flavors don’t mingle. Rounded knives are best for spreading luscious, creamy cheeses, and sharp knives are ideal for cutting hard aged cheeses. A cheese knife with tines is perfect for transferring slices to plates.
Purchasing and Storing
Cheeses are best freshly cut, so avoid prewrapped pieces when possible. Storing cheese is always a balancing act; cheese must “breath” or release moisture, but it also needs to stay moist and not dry out. Whenever possible, buy cheeses on the day of serving and keep the wedges at cool room temperature on a board or under a glass dome. When refrigerating, plastic wrap is the common, though imperfect, solution. The cheese won’t breathe, but it also won’t dry out. Use waxed paper for wrapping fresh and soft-ripened cheeses, which need to breath the most in order to ripen properly.
Our Favorite Cheese Pairings
Manchego + membrillo (quince paste) + Marcona almonds
Fresh goat cheese + green or black olives
Mozzarella + tapenade
Gorgonzola + figs
Honey + blue cheese + toasted walnuts
Fruit chutney + Cheddar + toasted almonds
Pears + Parmigiano Reggiano
Triple-creme cheese + Champagne