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Cheese 101

The Perfect Cheese Platter

What to buy―and how much―to create a delightful and delicious spread.

0412cheese-boardAndrew McCaulRealSimple.com

 

Selecting the Cheese

  • Try to include a variety of textures and flavors. Most cheese belongs to one of four basic categories: aged, soft, firm, or blue. For a good variety, choose at least one from each group. Some examples:
     Aged: Aged Cheddar, Comte, Goat Gouda
     Soft: Constant Bliss, Camembert, Brillat-Savarin
     Firm: Manchego, Mimolette, Parmigiano-Reggiano
     Blue: Gorgonzola Dolce, Valdeón, Stilton
  • You can also try selecting cheeses by the type of milk used (cow, goat, sheep). This will ensure a range of different flavors on the plate.
  • Serve at least one familiar cheese.


How Much Is Enough?

  • For a party in which cheese is the main event, plan on buying 3 pounds for 8 people, 6 pounds for 16, or 9 pounds for 24. If cheese is one of many items being served, plan on buying 3 to 4 ounces per person.

 

Accompaniments

  • Offer a selection of breads, including sliced baguette, bread sticks, and crackers in all different shapes and sizes. It’s a good idea to vary taste and texture among the breads as well as the cheeses.
  • Jarred condiments and vegetables are quick and fuss-free. Try sweet preserves or honey, tart chutneys, and spicy mustards. You can also add artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, and caponata. If you have a bit more time, prepare caramelized onions, which complement most cheese plates.
  • Various other sweet and salty items can work as well. Try cured meats such as prosciutto and salami, or candied nuts and pistachios. Assorted seasonal and dried fruits can include figs, cherries, apples, and pears.
     

Serving Tips

  • Separate strong-smelling cheeses. If you want to serve a pungent, stinky-socks cheese, place it on a separate plate so it doesn’t overpower more delicate ones.  four or five choices are enough.
  • Set out a separate knife for each cheese, especially the soft varieties. Soft cheese spreads well with a butter knife; firm cheese might require a paring knife; and aged cheese often requires a cheese plane.
  • Remove the cheese from the refrigerator an hour before serving―cold mutes flavor.
  • Spread out the spread. Place the cheese platters and the other nibbles on several tables to avoid guest gridlock.
  • Label each cheese so you won’t need to recite the names all evening. If you like, also jot down a few poetic adjectives describing its flavor.

 

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Quick Tip

Aluminum foil and plastic wrap in a drawer

The flan can be baked up to 3 days in advance; refrigerate, loosely covered with plastic wrap. Unmold just before serving.