In our new series on Canadian Cheese, cheese lover Ashley Linkletter explores why now is the time to get excited about Canadian cheeses. Are you unsure about how to create a cheese plate? Today Ashley shows us the secrets of creating a visually stunning cheese plate that both you and your guests will enjoy.
The perfect cheese plate isn’t necessarily the most complex cheese plate; the perfect cheese plate is fun to assemble and a pleasure to eat for both yourself and your guests. As someone who’s made at least 300 cheese plates in my lifetime I’ve been lucky enough to help countless people with their own attempts, offering lots of reassurance and guidance to those who felt intimidated by the cheese plate-making process.
The most important thing to remember when making a cheese plate is to relax and have fun — putting together a cheese plate should be an enjoyable process!
Choosing the Cheeses
I’ve noticed that a lot of people think that they have to have certain types of cheeses. They think they need a firm, a soft, a goat, and a blue cheese to make a successful cheese plate.
I’ve always advised people to buy cheese that they like; if that means three soft cheeses and one firm cheese, that’s fine. Some people insist they need an orange cheese to liven up the plate, and while there are many tasty orange cheeses, you can use fresh fruit and other add-ons to make a gorgeous plate with all-white cheeses. If you know your audience you could even make an all-blue cheese plate and have a compare and contrast tasting event at your next get-together!
Arranging Your Cheese Plate
It’s important to keep your guests in mind when you’re assembling your cheese plate. You want them to be able to serve themselves efficiently and without a lot of mess. Arranging the cheese with the rind pointing towards the centre of the plate makes it much easier for people to help themselves.
I always like to cut a small wedge out of small round cheeses; this is an invitation for your guests to dive right in. I also cut up about a third of each firm cheese and rest it on the intact piece for the same reason. Unless the rind is distinctly inedible I leave the rind on, but sometimes I’ll remove it from one side of the cheese if it's particularly strong-tasting.
Fresh fruit should be cut into manageable pieces that your guests can eat with ease, and you should make sure you have a small bowl for pits and seeds.
Serving Your Cheese Plate
The most important rule when serving a cheese plate is to give it at least an hour to come to room temperature.
This will ensure super-flavourful cheese and extra-gooey soft cheeses. Make sure you have cheese knives handy (use paring knives if you don’t have any cheese knives lying around). Serve your cheese plate with thinly sliced baguette and a neutral cracker in a basket or serving dish. This will prevent any residual sogginess from the fruit or a preserve.
What Goes on a Cheese Plate?
Fresh fruit can be used in several different ways to elevate the appearance of a cheese plate, as it’s the simplest way to add contrasting and complementary colours to an otherwise neutral palette.
Red and orange fruits such cherries, strawberries, persimmons, plums, mandarin oranges, pomegranate segments and any brightly-coloured berry look stunning next to blue-veined and ash-covered cheeses.
Fresh figs and purple Concord grapes make orange cheeses appear extra-vibrant.
Alternately, you can create a delicate appearance by using softly green Champagne grapes next to pale cheeses and Red Anjou or Bartlett pears with straw-coloured semi-soft and firm cheeses.
Dried fried can be used in much the same way as fresh fruit. Dried apricots and cranberries are particularly effective at creating contrast as well as an intensely sweet counterpart to any salty notes that the cheeses have.
Earthy-coloured dried figs, dates and pears add understated elegance to any cheese platter.
Nuts add a pleasant contrast in texture to the cheese and fruit and can include any raw, roasted or candied nut or a mix of nuts you like.
If I’m sure of my audience, I love to serve imported Marcona almonds, which are sweet Spanish almonds that have been roasted or fried in olive oil before being tossed with sea salt.
ALLERGY ALERT: I typically don’t add nuts to my cheese plates because of potential allergies — I want to be sure that all my guests can enjoy the spread!
Jellies and Preserves
The sky’s the limit when it comes to jellies and preserves; you can opt for sweet or savoury or have small ramekins filled with both.
Sour cherry jam is a match made in heaven for tart cheeses like fresh chèvre or ricotta as well as creamy blue cheeses.
Fig spread pairs well with almost any kind of cheese, while quince paste enhances any firm sheep or goat’s milk cheese.
Antipasti, both with tuna and the vegetarian kind, work well with extra-aged cheeses and any cheese that contains black or green peppercorns.
Any olives will work for a cheese plate, whether you prefer stuffed or not. I tend to err on the side of unstuffed but with the pits still in (I just place a small bowl close by for the pits).
Bright green Italian Castelvetrano olives are a favourite of mine; they have a buttery taste that’s milder than most other olives.
Another favourite is almond-shaped jade green Lucques, French olives that are just as at home on a cheese plate as they are in a gin martini.
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