Festive Fromage: How to Make the Perfect Cheese Tray

It's not a party without cheese! Read on for expert tips on how to make the perfect cheese plate for your next gathering

It’s a cocktail party mainstay: a plate of fine cheeses to keep your guests satiated while you schmooze and booze. And though it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the stacks of well-wrapped cheese wheels and oozing wedges at the cheese counter, you don’t need one more thing to worry about over the holidays. Let the country’s top cheesemongers help you make a cheese plate that’s the life of the party.

Unless you’re devoting your entire party menu to cheese tasting, stick to three cheeses on the plate. “You don’t want to overwhelm people if you’re going to have other hors d’oeuvres,” says Kirstin Jackson, San Francisco cheesemonger and author of It’s Not You, It’s Brie: Unwrapping America’s Unique Culture of Cheese.

But which three to pick? There are no hard and fast rules, but cheese experts typically recommend mixing a variety of flavors and textures when building a cheese board. “A good selection of cheeses needs a bridge from the mild to strong, soft to hard,” says New York-based Chef Fromager Tia Keenan. She suggests “something mild and creamy, something hard and saltier, and then something funky -- either a blue or a stinky, washed rind cheese.”

Versatile, crowd-pleasing options include Alpine-style cheeses with nutty undertones like a classic Gruyère, or artisan Cheddars like Cabot Clothbound from Vermont. Jackson likes mixed-milk cheeses like La Tur, which combines goat, cow and sheep’s milks for a light but nuanced flavor.

Similarly, it means less stress if you pick one wine to serve with cheese and appetizers instead of trying to uncork multiple wines to match. Both Keenan and Jackson love to serve sparkling whites with their cheese plates: “The bubbles and the butterfat just love each other,” Keenan says, while the acidity of an unoaked white helps cut the richness of the cheese.

While baguettes and water crackers are a tried-and-true match with a cheese plate, fresh or dried fruit tempers the richness and provides a burst of bright, zingy flavor to contrast with the creamy dairy. Add a bowl of fresh fruit compote or preserves as an accompaniment, a few slices of pears with honey, or a handful of dried apricots.

Assuming your guests will be arriving with an appetite, estimate one to two ounces of cheese per person. “If you have ‘too much’ left over, sending your guests home with a little piece of cheese is a nice way to thank them for coming,” Keenan says. “Usually that cheese is gone by breakfast the following day.”

WATCH: Cheese Plate

Check out more festive and delicious Party Appetizer recipes, and add some charm to your cheese board by serving on a Puff Pastry Cheese Tray!


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