The cheese plate — or board as it’s sometimes called — is the perfect way to start a wonderful meal or be the centerpiece of your get together with friends. It doesn’t matter if you are a newbie cheese lover or grew up on mac & cheese we have fun, easy tips to help you take the worry out of how to impress your friends with a cheese board that looks like it popped right off an Instagram feed!
Creating a cheese plate that is balanced visually and in terms of flavors and textures is a skill that’s easy to learn and always useful.
According to Charles Duque, Director, The French Dairy Board for the Americas, “there’s no such thing as the perfect cheese plate. It’s a matter of personal taste and occasion.”
Duque offers these tips for creating a cheese board with style.
- Balance: It’s all about the numbers. Duque (like many interior decorators) likes the power of uneven numbers. He insists on using three, five or seven cheeses in his presentations.
- Follow the clock: Position your cheeses on the board and think of them as a clock.
Start from the mildest and work your way up to the most intricate (i.e. pungent). Duque notes with good reason – “If you start with the stinky cheese, you will not be able to taste the more delicate cheeses,”.
- It’s About Style: Select your cheeses from one of each of the major styles. Washed rind, soft cheese, hard cheese, and a pungent blue. Here are some of his favorites:
Washed-Rind: Pont L’Eveque
Pont L’Eveque has buttery and savory flavors, with tangy hints of tangy fruit. Equally enjoyed with Champagne or post-meal apple brandy.
Soft Cheese: Bûche de Luçay
Duque recommends a goat cheese, like Bûche de Luçay from the Loire Valley. Fresh goat cheese is light, tangy, and spreadable; and aged goat cheese (Bûche de Luçay is aged for two months) is slightly crumbly and similar in texture to cheesecake.
Hard Cheese: Mimolette
Mimolette is nutty with hints of butterscotch, similar to an aged Gouda. It’s very firm but not overly salty like Parmigiano-Reggiano, and its bright orange color also makes it stand out.
The classic blue cheese is sharp and delightfully pungent with a slightly dry texture. Great addition for those who want a true blue.
The Company You Keep: Baguette or cracker; hand-to-mouth? It’s totally up to you.
Duque warns the baguette or cracker should be neutral. Do not put a delicate cheese on something so savory that it will mask the flavor of the cheese. Keep the crackers light and crisp, the baguettes should be sliced and then sliced again. You want to taste the cheese, not the bread. Love raisins or more doughy breads with cranberries and nuts – use it, there’s always a cheese that will taste out of this world with that slice of bread.
- Board Basics: If this is your first cheese fete and you don’t have a cheese board don’t let that stop you. If you have a cutting board, use it, if not, clear off a surface of your table, desk, coffee table and lay down some craft paper, arrange your cheeses on the surface just as you would a board. You can also use a piece of slate, a shelf from Ikea – think about lining up the cheeses (in order) down the center of the plate.
- Identify Yourself Please: You know how mom always sewed your name into your jacket when you were little? Go with that idea and label your cheese so everyone knows what they’re trying. You can do this with a pen or marker if you are using craft paper. If you are using a board you can use nuts to hold hand-written labels. You can also hand write the names of the cheese on a piece of paper and attach them with a toothpick or again – buy erasable boards that are meant to be stuck on cupcakes and use a white pen and write the name of the cheese there – and use the board again.
- Slice it in Style: Cheeses deserve worthy companions both alongside and for serving. For a truly French experience, i.e. splurge-worthy experience try the Laguiole Jean Neron Cheese knives. These elegant stainless steel – wood handled Laguiole knives come from the Massif Central region of France – specifically the “knife city” of Thiers where 70% of French cutting tool production comes from. http://www.laguiole.com/laguiolecheese-knife-piece-choose-handle-p-388.html?language=en. Boska also makes great knives or browse amazon.com too for buys you don’t need to even leave home for.
- Add a bit of the Sweet Stuff: Finally, a little bit of sweetness to balance it all out is always a good addition. Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and your local green market are great sources for different kinds of honey to use, seasonal jams and nuts that add crunch and texture, a bit of saltiness and dimension to your board.
For more information on French Cheese, check out CheesesOfEurope.com.