Arrange a tempting cheese tray
This article was originally published in December 2012
Assembling a tempting cheese tray is easier than you might think. Just like organizing a great dinner party, it’s all in the details. Here’s some guidance to help you plan and to know what to look for on your next visit to our cheese department.
How much cheese?
Plan on 1 to 2 ounces per person.
Texture and flavor
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, Gouda, Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Soft: Brie, Camembert, Taleggio
- Firm: Manchego, Asiago, Gouda
- Blue: Roquefort, Stilton
You also can select cheese by the type of milk used (cow, goat, sheep) to ensure a range of different flavors on the plate.
Consider all palates
Make sure to offer something for everyone, including your vegan and dairy-free friends! Start with something “safe” (a mild cheese like Brie), and build to more intense flavors. Add a couple nut cheeses to the mix — find an array of soft-to-hard wheels from Miyoko’s alongside our traditional cheeses.
A few suggestions
- Local cheese plate: Twin Sister’s Creamery Peppercorn White Cheddar, Rogue Creamery Oregon Blue, Mt. Townsend Cirrus, Kurtwood Farms Dinah.
- Continental cheese plate: Manchego, Fontina D’Aosta, Bleu D’Auvergne, Old Irish Creamery Porter Cheddar.
- Dessert cheese plate: Fromage D’affinois, Aged Gouda, Cranberry Wensleydale.
- Separate strong-smelling cheeses. If you want to serve a pungent cheese, place it on a separate plate so it doesn’t overpower more delicate options.
- Remove the cheese from the refrigerator an hour before serving — cold mutes flavor.
- Label each cheese so you won’t need to recite the names all evening. Jot down a few adjectives to describe the flavor of each.
- Don’t crowd the cheese. Be sure to have a platter or wooden board large enough to hold the cheeses without crowding them. Arrange the cheeses with the cut sides facing out and with several small cheese knives.
- Set out a separate knife for each cheese. Soft cheese spreads well with a butter knife; firm cheese might require a paring knife; and aged cheese often requires a cheese plane.
- 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.
- Things to nibble. Jarred condiments and vegetables are quick and fuss-free. Try sweet preserves or honey, tart chutneys, and spicy mustards. You also can add artichoke hearts or roasted red peppers. 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. Assorted seasonal and dried fruits can include figs, cherries, apples, and pears.
- Remember the drinks. The key to a perfect pairing: Cheese is partnered best with wine made near the cheese’s origin. Serve Spanish cheese with Spanish wine, for example. Cheddars and goudas are often terrific with cider, and dark beers can be delicious, too. If in doubt, ask for a recommendation from PCC staff.
Blue cheese paired with marinated beets
Try: Point Reyes Original Blue or Rogue Creamery Oregon Blue
Rich, earthy beets have the flavor to stand up to strong blue cheeses and will draw out the flavor complexity rather than sharp flavors.
Soft chèvre paired with mixed olives
Try: Tieton Farms (local), Laura Chenel (domestic) or Cana de Cabra (imported)
Subtly tangy, soft and mild cheese shines when mixed with briny, meaty olives.
Cheddar paired with organic Honeycrisp apples
Try: Rumiano Goat Cheddar, Jasper Hills Cabot Clothbound Cheddar or English Cotswold
This simple combination is a great blending of tastes and textures that should please the whole family.
Dry, aged cheese paired with Marcona almonds
Try: Rembrandt Gouda, Red Leicester or Parmesan Reggiano
The cheeses offer delicious caramel overtones when married with these almonds.