Friday, August 3, 2012

Cheese Plate 101: Creating a Perfect Appetizer for Two!

Nothing beats a well-composed cheese, fruit & nut
plate for easy entertaining or a light summer appetizer for two!
One of the things that I try to do with this blog is expand my culinary bag of tricks. Case in point: I love going to a party or restaurant and enjoying a well-composed cheese plate/display. However, I wasn’t sure of the correct technique to use to compose a proper cheese plate of my own at home. I’ve been doing some research into precisely that lately, so today I’m going to share Cheese Plate 101 with you. Creating a cheese plate/display is a good skill to have in your back pocket if you like to entertain: it’s a quick, no-cook way to entertain your guests -- whether it’s the appetizer course before a meal...or the star of the show at an elegant cocktail party. Once you know the basics, it's really simple to whip up a tasty cheese plate!

I had always assumed that assembling a cheese plate was arbitrary. There are no hard-and-fast rules per se, but it turns out that there is a general method that most cheese experts recommend following. The key word when making your cheese plate is variety! Make sure to provide a range of textures and flavors on your plate. Many experts recommend choosing among the following categories of cheese: aged, soft, firm, semi-soft, and blue. The recommended number of categories is 3-6, depending on the number of people you’re serving. Since I made a plate for Michael and I to share, the cheese plate I’m sharing today is composed of the following three categories:

Soft: creamy, tangy goat cheese

Semi-soft: fresh mozzarella bocconcini sprinkled with sea salt and cracked pepper

Hard: salty, firm Spanish manchego

Other popular methods of composing a cheese plate/display include picking one kind of milk (cow, sheep, or goat)...or even a specific country/ feature. Once the cheese is on the platter, it’s time to pick your accompaniments. I included pistachios, dried apricots, thin baguette rounds, and a really nice raspberry-chipotle sauce. Simply arrange everything nicely on a platter (for 1-2 people), or cutting board (for larger groups). Make sure to take the cheese out of the fridge about an hour before serving so it can come to room temperature. That will ensure the flavors of the cheeses are able to reach their full potential.

This cheese plate has a little bit of everything! Clockwise, from the top: goat cheese, pistachios,
manchego, baguette slices, fresh mozzarella sprinkled with sea salt & cracked pepper, and dried apricots.
In the middle is a raspberry-chipotle spread.

The cheeses I featured on my plate are some of my favorites! The creamy, slightly tangy goat cheese was amazing spread on slices of bread and topped with the sweet-spicy raspberry-chipotle sauce, and the manchego paired exceptionally well with nuts and dried fruit. The fresh mozzarella was perfect enjoyed on its own with the salt & pepper enhancing its mild flavor. For most people, cheese begs to be paired with wine. I chose a rich, fruity cabernet sauvignon to serve with this cheese plate. It stood up nicely to the manchego, but it didn’t overwhelm the milder mozzarella or goat cheese.

Each person can serve themselves a bit of each item from the platter
onto individual serving plates. Don't forget the wine!

There’s few nicer ways to kick off the weekend than to pour a glass of wine, put on some nice relaxing jazz -- I especially love Miles Davis and Pat Metheney -- and enjoy a flavorful cheese plate! You can find the Fischer & Wieser's Original Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce featured on my plate at a fantastic online specialty food store: the Marketplace at Foodspring. It was a really nice choice -- smoky, sweet, tart, and spicy all at once. The flavor of the sauce complimented was especially nice with the tangy goat cheese. Now that you have seen the basics of Cheese Plate 101, I hope you’ll experiment with the formula to create a masterpiece of your own!!

1 comment:

  1. I have to admit that I have been intimidated by this. Our cheese plates tend to be slices of pepperjack and triscuits! :) I pinned this for future reference! Thanks for the tutorial!


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