Creating the Perfect Cheese Plate From Grocery Store Stock

Anybody else have hostess “go-to”s?

Like, if I had come to your house for your last three get-togethers you hosted, I would have eaten the exact same something more than once?

At my house, the party staples are a veggie tray (with a bevy of dipping sauces) and a fully-stocked cheese board.

I usually find that if people stuff their faces with cheesey & bready carbs as soon as they walk in the door, they’re less likely to hound me about why dinner is taking so long (“I’m uh… preparing a reduction sauce. Yeah. Totally not trying to scratch the little burnt bits from your toast, if that’s what you’re asking.”)

So yeah. Back to cheese plates.

 

The Really Good Stuff

Joanna Goddard from A Cup of Jo recently got in cohoots with the cheesemonger (the cheese expert, for those not in the cheesey know) from her local shop. That local shop just happens to be Murray’s Cheese Shop, the oldest cheese shop in New York City.

So here’s what’s on Joanna’s expertly curated plate:

  • Pyrenees Brebis (a nutty, semi-soft sheep’s milk cheese)
  • Cambozla Black Label (a delicate blue cheese)
  • La Tur (a mix of goat, sheep and cow’s milk cheese)
  • Cremont (a gourmet cheese that was just invented last year)
  • Pleasant Ridge Reserve (which was named “Best in Show” by the American Cheese Society three times in a row)
  • Cabot Clothbound Cheddar (a really fancy artisanal cheddar cheese that has a staff of linebacker-sized men hired to flip it everyday so it ages evenly)

Wow.

I wonder if they sell that football-team-flipped Cabot at Kroger? [ref]They totally do (maybe) if you’re in Cincinnati, Houston or here in Atlanta. Murray’s Cheese, the spot where Joanna got her goodies, has partnered with Kroger stores in those three cities (soon to be more!) to bring their artisan cheese selection to your ‘hood. Go here for a list of stores. [/ref]

 

The Grocery Store Aisle Cheese Board

For those of us without an award-winning cheese store downstairs (or who are too chicken to go talk to a cheese monger about artisan cheeses that we’re clueless about), here’s my go-to cheese selection.

Everything can be sourced in your local grocery’s craft cheese aisle, but it still shares the same balance of flavors as the good stuff:

  • One soft-ripened cheese. Something likeĀ  Brie or Chaource. You want something that will spread easily on a cracker.
  • One semi-soft cheese. Try Baby Swiss or Jarlsberg.
  • A stinky, washed-rind cheese. I always go for Taleggio (tah-LED-joh, I never learned to pronounce it right either).
  • A harder cheese. Get a brick of good-quality Cheddar or Gouda.
  • A blue cheese.

It seems to be a good mix that pleases every palate, even if my cheddar doesn’t have a football team of attendants.

 

How to Serve ‘Em

No matter what cheeses you’ve got, you can elevate the plate by serving them like the fancy stuff. Here’s a bunch of great tips (from A Cup of Jo and elsewhere):

  • Gauge how much cheese you’ll need by budgeting for one ounce of each cheese for each person.
  • Give the cheese time to come to room temperature before serving to get the best flavor.
  • Serve all the cheeses on one big board. Add pairing foods like dried fruits, nuts, fresh grapes, slices of apples or pears, crackers, baguettes, prosciutto slices and salami slices. Add some honey, jam or chutney for dirzzling/spreading.
  • Arrange the cheeses from mild to strong and soft to hard.
  • Get the right tools for the job. When you’re dealing with different cheese textures, one knife does not fit all. Use a cheese wire (or dental floss, shhh!) for crumbly cheese like blue or goat cheese, a triangle-shaped knife for hard cheese like parmesan, and a butter knife for all your other soft or spreadable cheeses. Make sure you have one knife (of whatever kind) for each cheese so the flavors don’t mingle.

So what are you waiting for? Let’s eat!

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