It’s the most popular dish of most parties, the go-to for events big and small, and an aesthetically pleasing addition to any food spread.
Cheese platters are an appetizer “must”, and no party is complete without one. But not every cheese platter is created equal.
A variety of guests means a variety of palates. Planning accordingly for the many different tastes in the room will help you make a cheese plate that satisfies the whole crowd.
And knowing how to pair the right cheeses with the right fruits, deserts and crackers can make your cheese platter that much tastier.
Read on to learn how to create a cheese platter guaranteed to be a hit at your next party.
The 6 Categories of Cheeses
There are countless varieties of cheeses, as flavor depends on many variables including the source of the milk, moisture content, amount of aging, and type of processing.
Most cheeses are commonly divided into 6 different classifications, based on texture and moisture content:
- Firm and semi-firm
- Blue-veined cheeses
- Goat’s milk cheeses
- Processed cheeses
For quality and health purposes, it’s best to avoid processed cheeses.
But for the ultimate cheese plate, include at least one cheese from each of the 5 other categories to pair with other tasty snacks.
Fresh cheeses are cheeses that have not gone through the aging process. Because of their youth, fresh chesses taste more buttery than bitter, and pair great with desserts or fruit.
Take note that because fresh cheeses lack the preservatives typically gained through the aging process, they have a much shorter shelf life than others.
They should be put on your platter immediately before serving, and removed or refrigerated no more than 2 hours later.
- Because of cottage cheese’s extremely moist texture, it’s best to serve cottage cheese in a small serving bowl with a small spoon, preferably perforated to drain any liquid.
- To get more creative, serve it in a half melon instead of a bowl.
- One of the more flavor-flexible types of cheeses, you can pair this successfully with most fruits.
- Like cottage cheese, Feta also has an extremely moist texture that calls for being served in a small bowl with a perforated spoon.
- It’s brined, or soaked in salty water.
- This makes it a good pairing with more savory foods. To add flavor and balance the saltiness, add olive oil and a sprinkle of oregano. Pair it with olives, tomato and cucumber for a Mediterranean feel.
- Soft Cheeses
Soft cheeses differ from fresh cheeses in that they have been aged 2 months or lessthrough a molding process.
They’re loved for their flavor and texture as well as high protein and calcium content.
In the culinary world, soft cheeses are divided into 2 sub-categories: bloomy rind, which gets its flavor from surrounding mold and washed rind, which is immersed in a salt water brine.
- Brie is nicknamed “The Queen of Cheeses,” not only for its luxurious flavor and texture, but because hundreds of years ago it was a tribute required for a French king.
- Brie typically comes in small wheels, and is best served as either an entire wheel or large slice with a small knife for self-serving.
- It can be delicious when served baked.
- Brie has a flexible flavor you can enhance in 2 ways: sweet or savory.
- Make it sweet by pairing it with multi grain crackers, fruit jam, baked apples, and honey, or go a more savory route by using herbs, garlic, and sesame crackers.
- Mozzarella is made through a process called pasta filata in which the curdled milk is drained and stretched, creating a stringy texture.
- Mozzarella is often sold in ball shapes — it can be served as an entire ball with a soft cheese serving knife, or cut into rounded slices and fanned out with a small appetizer fork.
- Place it near tomatoes, basil and balsamic vinaigrette to encourage custom-made caprese.
Firm and Semi-firm Cheeses
Firmer cheeses are typically aged 6 months or longer. As a result, these cheeses tend to have a harder, dryer texture and a much longer shelf life than other cheeses.
Semi-firm cheeses can be sliced, while firm cheeses are usually crumbly and used for grating.
- Cheddar cheese was the first cheese made in the US, and has been a favorite ever since.
- It’s best served at room temperature, so be sure to pull it out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before guests arrive.
- Serve in a small block shape with its own cheese knife, or as cubes with toothpicks.
- Cheddar is best paired with fruits and wines, particularly mildly sweet fruits such as apples, pears, and grapes.
- If you choose to incorporate wine, go for a fruity Moscato or crisp white.
- Parmesan isn’t just for pasta. Its salty yet smooth flavor makes it a great addition to a delectable cheese platter.
- Like cheddar, parmesan is best paired with fruits like pears, apples or figs.
- Serve it in a small wedge with a wedge knife for guests to break off crumbles.
The “blue veins” in blue-veined cheese is referring to the cheese’s blue and gray color. These “veins” are caused by milk being ripened with a special type of mold called Penicillum.
The mold in blue veined cheeses create a distinct flavor enjoyed by many as well as a pungent odor. They’re best placed a good distance from other cheeses, or on a plate of their own to avoid the scent from overpowering others.
- Gorgonzola originates in Italy and is one of the first blue-veined cheeses.
- Try it as the center cut surrounded by apples, figs, dried cranberries, walnuts and a crusty bread, and a gorgonzola knife for serving.
Bleu d’ Auvergne
- This delectable delight was listed by bon appetit as one of 3 blue cheeses for people who think they hate blue cheese
- The above classification is thanks to this cheese’s hazelnut flavors, making it the “Nutella of cheeses.”
- Serve this tasty treat as a spread with apples, nuts and raw mushrooms.
Goat’s milk cheese is made using either pure goat’s milk or a combination of goat and cow milk.
Goat’s milk has a few more health benefits than cow’s milk, such as fewer calories and more vitamins.
- Garrotxa is dense and creamy, causing it to melt in your mouth.
- Its rind gives it subtle hints of lemon and hazelnut flavor.
- Enhance Garrotxa’s unique flavor with cured meats and serve with toothpicks.
- Brunet is named after the breed of Italian goat it originated from. It has a creamy texture and a flavor reminiscent of mushrooms, yeast and sweet cream.
- Combine it with orange blossom jam and use it as a spread for bread and crackers.