It is officially fancy party season! I love this time of year for several reasons: the weather, the cheer, the food, but also because of the parties (which really boils down to the food, right?). Sure, fancy parties can happen all year long, and this guide will help you regardless of the month, theme or occasion, but it seems that more parties happen in November and December than they do the other ten months of the year.
Any party that has a well-curated cheese display instantly feels more classy. I am here to make your next party splendidly classed up and fancy. Your cheese display will be the talk of the town, or at least the party, after we get through here. You could even nix the rest of the menu and just set up the mother of all cheese displays, with my help of course.
So. Pour yourself a glass of your favorite wine, consider your desired party feel, and let’s plan the best cheese display your guests have ever seen.
Regardless of party size, choose at least 3 different cheeses. 3 types of cheese is enough of a selection for parties up to about eight people, unless you’re hosting serious cheese lovers. For larger parties, or for guests that just can’t get enough cheese, select 4-8 different cheeses.
For an appetizer cheese platter, provide about 2-3 ounces of cheese per person. Increase that to around 6 ounces per person if cheese is your main event (and why shouldn’t it be?!) Decrease down to 1.5 ounces per person for a dessert cheese plate.
Cheese falls under four general categories: soft, firm, aged, and blue. Choose 1 from each category to make sure you get a good mix of texture and flavor in your cheese display. Depending on your party theme, you could choose all goat’s milk cheeses (i.e. fresh cherve, valencay, Bleuet de Cherve, and Humboldt Fog), cheese all from the same region (i.e. Italian cheeses like Pecorino Romano, Burrata, and Gorgonzola), or all the same type of cheese but from different animal milks and regions (i.e. a platter of blues such as: Roquefort, Stilton, Maytag, and Cashel Blue).
Regardless of theme, I always include a cheese that I know is a crowd pleaser. I want everyone at my party to have something they enjoy. You will see Kerrygold Dubliner cheese on every platter I pull together. It is a well-rounded, flavorful cheese that pairs well with everything else I add to the platter. It is similar in texture and flavor to an American sharp cheddar, and can be used in all the same applications. Even the pickiest adult I know, my dear friend Jenn, enjoys Dubliner. If I can add something that Picky Friend Jenn enjoys to a dinner party, I count that as a culinary success!
Another cheese I include regularly is burrata mozzarella. It is soft, creamy, milky, fresh, amazing, indulgent and comforting. It is my favorite cheese above all, and I will eat the entire ball if left to my own devices (Just see my single-serving cheese platter above. It is an example of something I have served myself for dinner on more than one occasion. No shame!)
Quarantine the stink! Cheese absorbs other flavors easily, so keep the stinky cheeses on their own platter or in their own container slightly separated from the other cheeses so everyone maintains their own unique taste.
If you feel like it, or if you have time, label your cheeses. This prevents you from having to recite names and notes of cheeses all night long. Although, if you’re like me and party talk doesn’t come naturally, then the unlabeled cheese will give you something to chat about.
Carbs! Cheese and carbs are lovers, and they should not be kept apart. Serve up some sliced baguette, water crackers, breadsticks, and any other bread-like vehicle that strikes your fancy. Other cheese display guides will tell you to stay away from seeded or flavored breads and crackers, but I say bring it on! Yes, they can overpower some of the dainty cheeses, but they carry so much flavor, and I think it is fun to experiment with mixing different flavors together. For instance, I love to spread a fresh cherve on a multi-seed cracker. The mixture of sesame, poppy, garlic, and even fennel with the tangy goat cheese plays on my tastebuds and gets them excited for what else is coming their way!
Meat. Charcuterie, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Good cured meats were invented to pair with cheese. Salami, capocollo, jambon, prosciutto. Just stand in front of the refrigerated meats section (usually next to or near the gourmet cheese section) and randomly choose a few to take home and sample. I try to look for a range of mild to spicy meats.
Fruits and Nuts. These add crunch, saltiness, and sweetness to your cheese platter. Choose seasonal fresh fruits like apples, pears, apricots, grapes, cherries, pomegranates, figs and peaches. Add some dried fruits for a different texture. Place small piles of pistachios, almonds and sunflower seeds for guests to munch.
Honey and Preserves. These also add sweetness. Many cheeses are tangy or salty. The balance of salty and sweet in an important one in all of cooking, and preparing a cheese platter is no different. Choose a good honey, fig jam or quince paste.
Others. Mustard, marinated olives, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, tapenade. For me, these are all optional. I don’t include them on every cheese platter, but I like to add them when I want a more substantial platter. Especially when your cheese display is where it’s at. If you aren’t serving a full meal, then make sure to fluff out your cheese platter with a generous selection of items from all of the above categories.
Tools. Don’t forget to place cheese knives, spreaders, spoons, and skewers alongside each of the items being served. You don’t have to get super fancy with your tools, but definitely provide a different knife or spreader for each cheese so the flavors don’t mix together before they even reach guests’ plates.
Timing. Cheese is best served at room temperature so begin to build your cheese platter at least 1 hour before guests arrive. Just like wine, cheese likes room and time to breathe in order to reach its full flavor and potential.
The most important rule of all: Have fun! Don’t stress, don’t worry too much about your selections. Cheese is world renowned and well loved. It’ll do the hard work for you. Just have fun with the art of setting up a cheese display, and then focus on eating! I mean, focus on being a good host.