I’m going to go out on a limb and say cheese and crackers are the ULTIMATE all-purpose appetizer. Minimal effort, plenty of flavor, and always a crowd-pleaser, a cheese platter is pretty perfect for any gathering.
Sure, anyone can toss a few hunks of cheese on a plate and call it a day… BUT to arrange a visually appealing AND delicious cheese board takes some skill. These tips will make your cheese platter FANTASTIC- you’ll be on your way to cheese heaven!
1. Selecting Cheese
Choose 3 cheeses, 4 tops depending on the number of people you are serving. You’ll want a variety of ages, milks, and textures. A soft-ripened cheese, such as brie or camembert, a hard aged cheese such as an aged Gouda, pecorino, or parmigiano, and a soft goat cheese or a blue cheese are great options.
Serve two or three different types of crackers. You can buy a box of assorted crackers, or two or three different boxes that go well with the different cheeses. As a general rule, sturdier crackers pair well with soft, spreadable cheese- where brittle or delicate crackers work better with harder cheeses.
Pick a fruit. Place washed and dried grapes on the platter, or slice an apple or a pear and fan it out. Dried fruit, such as figs or apricots, are also good options.
Pick a nut. Candied nuts are a great choice – that sweet / salty combo with the cheese is just plain delicious – or go with Marcona almonds, or whatever your favorite nut is.
Choose a jam to go with the cheese. Fig jam is always a crowd-pleaser. [Hot pepper jelly] goes particularly well with young goat cheeses. Stay away from jellies such as strawberry, grape or raspberry, that go better with peanut butter ?
6. Olives & Pickled Things
Hit up the olive bar at the grocery store and grab some of your favorite olives, or other pickled things that catch your fancy – I like cornichons and peppadew peppers to name a couple.
Adding a few cut veggies, such as celery, carrots, or fennel, lightens the board and adds a welcome crunch.
If you like, you can add some charcuterie to the platter (that’s fancy for cured meats). Sliced salami or prosciutto is a nice addition, though not necessary if you’d rather leave off the meat.
Now you’re ready to assemble. The most important part of putting together your platter is to make it feel AMPLE. (Of course the size of your board will depend upon the number of guests you’re serving.) You may think that you are overcrowding, but it’s crucial in making the it feel abundant. Not only will it be more visually appealing than a sparse cheese platter, but as people begin to dig in it will keep up appearances more successfully.
Space the cheese around the board or platter. Using a large, wood cutting board is a great option if you don’t have a dedicated cheese platter. Place the crackers that go best nearby the particular cheese. Ditto for any jams or spreads. Olives or other pickled things that may release a bit of brine should be placed in low bowls so as not to drip all over the other items. Scatter the nuts, place the fruit artfully around the platter, and fill in any holes with veggies or sliced meats.
Finally, when preparing, don’t forget utensils. Cheese knives, spoons for the jams, toothpicks for olives, and napkins should be at the ready.
Cheese is best when served close to room temperature. Compose your board in advance and let it sit out for a bit before guests arrive, or wrap it up and take it with you to a dinner party.
Cheers and enjoy!