Building a Cheese Plate
A cheese plate can serve as a quick & satisfying meal or snack, a bountiful Hors d'œuvre, a savory introduction to a meal, or a tasteful after-dinner course. Depending on its purpose, different cheese pairings accent various needs. For example, a cheese board appetizer before dinner should maintain mild & light flavors—an introduction to the tastes to follow—while after-dinner cheeses can include notes of caramel, sweet, rich & buttery.
What we present in these cheese pairings are ideas & not rules. However, like pairing cheese with wine, certain flavors react in a way that enhance or detract from each other. And while any cheese you like is perfect for any kind of cheese board, developing a little bit of knowledge & understanding can elevate the flavor & enjoyment of all cheese!
Three to five cheeses work well and won't overwhelm your palate or guests. Let cheese stand unwrapped at room temperature 30-45 minutes before serving. Provide each cheese with its own serving utensil. Allow a large enough serving plate so guests can comfortably maneuver all the cheeses.
Depending on the occasion, there are a variety of options for cheese presentation:
1. On a serving plate as whole wedges
2. On a serving plate with each wedge started (slice or chunk pieces of each wedge)
3. All cheeses cubed, chunked, sliced or shaved (depending on the cheese)
4. Each guest presented their own plate with a 1 to 2 oz. slice of each cheese
It’s easy to underestimate the amount of time it takes to prepare any cheese plate. The great thing about building a cheese board is that it can be done in advance, loosely covered & refrigerated. Just be sure to allow time for the cheeses to warm up before presenting.
Classic cheese tastings generally progress clockwise from mild to strong, light to heavy, etc…. This encourages the opportunity to compare & contrast during the initial sampling & prevents strong cheeses overwhelming the palate before a more delicate selection can be tasted. From there, cheeses are enjoyed freely in any order. The cheese pairing ideas offered here are listed in a suggested progression.
Blue, Brie & Cheddar
The most classic of pairings, the flavors & textures these cheeses encompass flatter & enhance one another. The blue adds visual interest &, through a range of piquancy, extols the flavor boundaries of cheese. The cheddar’s tang balances the strength & sharpness of the blue & offers textural variation. Rounding out the board with the brie’s creamy texture complements the blue & contrasts the cheddar’s crumbliness while mellowing the tang of both.
Cheese Board #1: Appetizer
Camembert Supreme, France, cow’s milk: A smooth & subtly complex bloomy-rind cheese, it serves as a balancer between the two sharper flavors.
Old Quebec 4 Year Cheddar, Canada, cow’s milk: A compatible cheddar, nicely sharp yet retaining a lovely cheddar flavor, it makes a great choice for any cheese board.
Point Reyes Original Blue, California, raw cow’s milk: This cheese presents a crumbly & firm texture with a creamy mouth-feel that delivers a rich blue flavor.
Cheese Board #2: Snack or Meal
Mirabo Brie with Walnuts, Germany, cow’s milk: A mediator by bringing out the earthy notes of the blue & the cloth-bound cheddar.
Jasper Hill Farms, Vermont, raw cow’s milk: The cloth-bound rind evokes a natural earthiness in both flavor & appearance while its crumbliness & mildly sharp flavor also make it a perfect fit.
Roquefort, France, raw sheep’s milk: A blue that highlights this earth-bound cheese board with robust flavors influenced by its aging in the famous caves of Combalou.
Cow, Goat & Sheep
This combination can go anywhere & really gives you the chance to explore different flavors. You can choose cheeses from the same country or from different regions of the world. But because flavors can vary so widely, don’t hesitate to taste a sample before choosing!
Cheese Board #3: Appetizer
Pecorino Toscano, Italy, sheep’s milk: Young & mild with amazing buttery & complex flavors that open up at room temperature.
Bucheron, Wisconsin, goat’s milk: The exquisite dual texture (creamy near the rind & crumbly towards the center) & log-shape make it a perfect cheese to present.
Cantalet, France, cow’s milk: A firm texture, rustic natural rind & slightly sharp flavor provide just the right amount of sapor to pair with the goat without overpowering the milder sheep.
Cheese Board #4: Snack or Meal
Urgelia, Spain, cow’s milk: Semi-firm, mildly assertive with a paste punctuated with tiny eye-holes, this pick balances the assertive goat & sheep cheeses.
Garrotxa, Spain, goat’s milk: A firm cheese enveloped in an eye-catching natural rind, Garroxta brings looks, texture & flavor (tangy with a concentrated goatyness) to this board.
MitiBleu, Spain, sheep’s milk: A texture that’s filled with granular glory & satiny creaminess coupled with a piquant flavor, this cheese speaks loudly on any cheese board.
Alternative Cheese Boards
Cheese Board #5: Snack or Meal
-A selection of washed-rind cheeses
Chimay, Belgium, cow’s milk: Thick, creamy texture with a complementing granular rind that imparts a pleasant yet biting flavor.
Taleggio, Italy, cow’s milk: Full-flavored, Italian-style brie with a meaty, farmyard-like flavor.
Munster, France, cow’s milk: Luxuriously supple texturally & very pronounced aroma with a milder flavor.
Cheese Board #6: After Dinner
-A selection of aged cheeses
Piave Vecchio, Italy, cow’s milk, aged 14 months: A gem of the Italian aged cheeses, milder than Parmigiano Reggiano with a slightly creamier texture.
Beemster Classic, Holland, cow’s milk, aged 24 months: Filled with an array of flavors ranging from slightly sweet & nutty to rich with hints butterscotch.
Finally, choose cheeses that offer visual & textural interest. Cahill Porter, Five Counties cheddar & DaVinci provide nice flavor while adding interest to your cheese plate. If you think you have too much flavor going on, try Primo Sale, Toma Piemontese, or Rustico to tame your plate. Accompany cheeses with bread, crackers, honey, fruit pastes, dried or fresh fruit, nuts or meats. And always, freely ask your cheesemonger at The Cheese Shop questions regarding serving suggestions, presentation & pairings!