Elizabeth writes regularly about discovering the world through food and travel over at Compass and Fork.
Cheese and wine are a fantastic combination. Good for an appetizer, an alternative to dessert, as part of a grazing platter or an excellent addition to a dinner party. How do you make a gourmet cheese platter? Are there any guidelines? What about wines? What goes with what? A good combination of cheese and wine can delight all of the senses.
Stay with me as I provide some pointers on how to put together a delicious cheese platter that will delight and enliven all of your senses.
How to Construct a Cheese Platter
How many people are you feeding? You should allow about 1-2 ozs (30-60 grams) per person per cheese. Going with an odd number of cheeses is visually more appealing than even numbers (1, 3 or 5 cheeses).
There is nothing wrong with having one cheese only, especially if it is a large ripe cheese that “runs”. There is nothing worse than trying to re-pack half-used ripe cheeses. You are better off having one cheese that is fully consumed rather than three less than half eaten left over cheeses.
What varieties are you going to choose? Soft? How about a Brie or a camembert? Hard? How about a great cheddar? Semi-soft? How about a Gruyère or Havarti? Are you going to serve a blue? If it is the only cheese on your platter be careful as not everyone is a fan. Care for an alpine cheese? These are very good and quite common in Europe. Washed rind and ash rind cheeses are becoming very popular, so be sure to look out for them.
What type of milk? Cow? Goat? Sheep? We still eat cow’s cheese but prefer sheep and goat varieties.
If you are looking at more than one cheese then take time to make sure you have a variety of textures, flavors and milk types in case some people have allergies, especially towards cow’s milk cheeses.
General Guidelines for a Great Cheese Platter:
- Select different textures of cheese: soft, semi hard, hard, blue
- And/or select cheeses from the milk of different animals: cow, goat, sheep
- Or pick a region and select a mix of cheese from that area, i.e Australia, Spain, France
- Try to include at least one cheese that will appeal to most people, usually with a mild taste
Great Accompaniments for a Cheese Platter
You don’t need to go overboard with accompaniments if you are serving one type of cheese. But if you are serving more than that I think multiple accompaniments look very attractive on the platter.
Are you going to provide crackers or bread? A beautiful, traditionally made sourdough is a great all round choice. Also consider a nut bread or nut/fruit combination loaf. And the availability of high quality, mild-tasting crackers is exploding. Try water crackers or lavosh. Are you catering for gluten-intolerant people? It is more common than you think! Luckily the selection of gluten-free crackers is improving.
Are you serving the platter as an appetizer? Try olives, cured meats and fruit like pear and apple. Here is another Italian-style antipasto platter, incorporating Parmigiano-Reggiano.
If the platter is being served after the main meal, then I would go for nuts (walnuts are perfect), dried fruit like figs, apricot, sultanas and dates. Fresh fruit is also good. Also consider quince paste (a highlight with soft cheeses) or fig loaf for something different. You can also try something luscious to dip into like honey or balsamic vinegar (both brilliant with strong, hard cheeses like cheddar or Parmigiano-Reggiano).
We like to serve our cheese platters on a wooden board, as the cheeses look good on them and there is plenty of room for the accompaniments. Arrange your cheeses on the board first, then scatter your accompaniments in and around them. Marble, slate or a large plate are also good for serving.
I choose to provide a separate knife for each cheese. And I make sure to label the cheeses so that people know what they are eating. It also provides a great talking point.
Wines to Accompany your Gourmet Cheese Platter
There are no rules when it comes to wines to accompany cheese. Having table wines is more than acceptable. Pinot Noir is great with sheep’s milk cheeses (soft, nutty taste) but not so good with strong blue cheeses. Strong cheeses like cheddar go well with strong reds like Cabernet Sauvignon. White table wines like chardonnay can work well with Brie.
If you are only serving one cheese, head online to search for recommendations for a wine accompaniment, or ask some friends what their favorite combinations are.
If you are serving the cheese platter after the meal, as is the custom in some parts of the world, dessert or fortified wines (sweeter and generally of higher alcohol content) are a great choice. Think Port, Muscat or Tokay. They are all great choices for a cheese platter. “Sticky whites” (late harvest Riesling, botrytis semillon, and others) have become incredibly popular and they are also great all-round options.
Port, muscat or sticky whites are my preference.
Storing Leftover Cheese
If you have bought your cheese from a specialty cheese shop, the cheese will have been wrapped in paper that is specific for keeping cheeses. Re-wrap in these. Otherwise use waxed paper. Once the cheese has been wrapped, you can either store in the dairy container of your refrigerator or set on a plate and cover with plastic wrap (yes, definitely use two wraps in this case).
Experiment! Have Fun!
If you are struggling with deciding exactly what to buy my advice is to go to your local specialty cheese shop and ask. People who work in these businesses are passionate so use their enthusiasm and knowledge to put together a fabulous platter. Not only do they sell great cheese but they will have a good range of accompaniments. It’s the perfect one-stop shop. They can also advise you on good wine varieties to enjoy with their cheeses.
Experiment with your cheeses to learn what you like and try a number of accompaniments until you find what makes up your perfect gourmet cheese platter. If you are like me it will be all of them!
And as Monty Python irreverently quipped in the Life of Brian,
“Blessed are the cheese-makers as they shall inherit the earth”.
Here here to that!