5 Tips for Creating the Perfect Cheese Plate

Blair Pfander

cheeseplate 5 Tips for Creating the Perfect Cheese Plate
There’s no better way to impress guests at your next fête than with the perfectly put-together plate of cheese.
Of course, the task can be trickier than it seems. Slapping a few grocery-store slabs on a cutting board may look like a culinary delight, but no matter how many types of prosciutto you dress it with, cheap cheeses always taste, well, cheap.
We consulted with expert cheese monger, Christopher Hanawalt, of Williamsburg, Brooklyn’s Bedford Cheese Shop to get the low-down on making a pitch-perfect cheese plate, that won’t break the bank either. His tips aren’t to be missed.
1. Balance Your Plate. “A basic approach to creating a good range of cheeses is to get three cheeses of different milk types: a cow’s milk, a sheep’s milk, and a goat’s milk,” Hanawalt advises. “From there, it’s important to think about texture and intensity. There is nothing more unappealing than a plate of different bries or four different aged goudas sitting on a board. Our taste buds get bored quickly and easily, and demand to be entertained.  You want a good range—some cheeses that are mild, some cheeses that are stronger, some cheeses that are soft and some cheeses that are harder and more rustic.”
2. Don’t Forget the Visuals. “Since half of good-eating is presentation, it’s important to get cheeses that simply look different from one another,” Hanawalt emphasizes. “Cheeses come in a veritable rainbow of hues and all sorts of weird shapes and sizes—so get crazy.”

3. Go With Your Gut. “Another component of a cheese board is pairing. This can be a scary and daunting task, and it takes a long time to develop your palate to create successful and interesting pairings. But, I would stress that it is important to remember that there are no ‘rules’ for pairing. If you think two things taste good and want to consume them together, then go ahead. It’s also key to remember that everyone has a different palate: A combination that I think is delicious might taste like hot garbage to you, so it’s better to go with your gut.”

4. Seasonality Matters. “Cheese production slows down in the winter because the animals can no longer eat fresh grasses and herbs and produce rich, high-quality milk,” Hanawalt explains. “A fresh cheese is simply going to be better in the summer when the milk is at its peak. Now is the time of year you are going to see lots of fresh goat cheese buttons and other creamy, spreadable goodness that is lighter and more flavorful. That isn’t to say you can’t find great cheeses in the winter. A key component of good cheese is affinage, or the process of aging the cheese to perfection. Many cheeses take months to years to get to their peak, and can be enjoyed all year round. Get ready for wheels of Gruyère and Parmigiano-Reggiano!”
5. Can’t-Miss Combinations.“For white or sparkling wines, I prefer creamy, buttery, spreadable cheeses such as bries, or fresh chèvres. Whites also pair excellently with blue cheese and more pungent cheeses. The acid of a white wine is a great way to cut the palate-coating creaminess of these cheeses,” advises Hanawalt.

“For red wines, I prefer harder, nuttier, grassier cheeses, such as pecorinos, alpine style cheeses (like Comté, Gruyère, Appenzeller), or cheeses from the Pyrenees. These cheeses are able to stand up to the tannins of a red wine, which produce unique flavors in both the food and beverage.  If you do want to do a creamier cheese with a red, I would recommend something earthy, spicy…Something that smells like a wet sheep lying on a bale of hay. You’ll be pleasantly surprised! Beer is also a great option for cheese, but that is a whole world unto itself.”
What are your favorite cheese pairings?