You're having a party and want to put out a cheese platter. Where to start? Here's a quick guide to guarantee there's something for everyone and plenty to eat.
The key to a great cheese platter is to focus on serving a variety of textures, flavors and accompaniments. In general we count on about 1 ounce per person, per cheese, assuming a selection of 3-5 cheeses. I rarely serve more than 5 cheeses because it becomes overwhelming to the palate. Always serve cheese at room temperature so remove them from the refrigerator at least an hour before serving.
I usually begin with a light, lemony goat cheese, such as Coupole from Vermont Creamery, or a La Tur which is a mixed milk cheese from Italy made from cow, goat and sheep's milk. Next I would pick a rich cow's milk triple cream cheese like Brillat Savarin from France or a Champlain Triple from Champlain Creamery in Vermont. Then on to a firm, sheep’s-milk cheese, such as Manchego or Pecorino Tartufo, studded with black truffles. These types are always crowd pleasers.
An Alpine-style should come next. I like Comte or the American counterpart, Ascutney Mountain, which has an onion-like flavor. A more adventurous selection would be the brine-washed Eden from Sprout Creek Farm in upstate New York. It has a slight pungency but a pleasing creamy texture. The final cheese should be a blue cheese. Choose a classic blue like Stilton, but also consider an American cheese like Bayley Hazen Blue. Made by Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont, it has a nice buttermilk flavor and a hint of Vermont minerality in the finish.
To accompany a wide range of cheeses, fresh fruit is a natural. Grapes are a classic but also consider sliced apples or pears. Fresh figs, when in season, add something special. Preserves or chutney also work well. The sweetness from the preserves complement the saltiness of cheese. Nuts, such as caramelized walnuts, are a good accompaniment because they add an additional texture to the platter. Stay away from salted nuts because they tend to make everything seem too salty.
Finally, the big question, bread or crackers? I say, why not both? A great baguette provides a nice neutral canvas for the cheese and also a nice chewy texture. Breads studded with fruit and nuts complement tangy cheeses like goat and blue. When it comes to crackers I like to offer something plain like an olive oil cracker, as well as something with a little sweetness like Daelia's Biscuits for Cheese. This ensures there is something for everyone.