How to Plan a Cheese Board: Get festive with fromage

November, 2016

No holiday party menu is complete without a cheese plate. In fact, rich, gourmet cheeses pair so well with so many things—wine, cured meats, fruit and nuts, jam and compote, crusty breads and crackers—no wonder it’s the shining star of the appetizer table. Want to make your own? Choose a cheese from each of these four categories to create a cheese board your guests will melt over.

Blue Cheese

Flavour and texture profile: Blue cheese, also called blue-veined cheese, is known for its particularly pungent smell and distinctive flavour. Blue cheese contains cultures of the mould Penicillium, which gives it its characteristic smell. Its texture is usually creamy, but it’s also available as a firm cheese (Stilton, for example). Blue cheeses range in flavour from mild to strong, but they all tend to have a notable sharp, tangy, salty (and sometimes peppery) taste.

Names to watch for: Gorgonzola, Stilton, St. Agur Blue, Roquefort, Danish Blue and Cambozola.

Quick tip: Honey is delicious drizzled over blue cheese; the honey’s subtle sweetness complements the sharpness of the cheese.

Fun fact: Cambozola is a brie-style blue cheese made from cow’s milk. Perfect for winning over blue-cheese haters.

Soft Cheese

Flavour and texture profile: Soft cheese is an uncooked, unpressed cheese that hasn’t ripened for long. This young cheese is high in moisture, giving it a very creamy—or even runny—texture. Soft cheeses tend to have a mild, earthy taste and contain flavours of milk and nuts.

Names to watch for: Brie, Camembert, Brilliat-Savarin, Chevre, Teleme and Beaujolais.

Quick tip: Soft cheese spoils more quickly than firmer cheese, so be sure to use it within a few days. Because of its soft rind, soft cheese absorbs smells from the refrigerator and plastic wrap, so store it loosely in waxed paper in a humid drawer in your fridge.

Fun fact: For the fullest flavour, take your soft cheese out of the refrigerator at least an hour before serving so it can warm to room temperature.

Semi-Soft Cheese

Flavour and texture profile: Like soft cheese, semi-soft cheese has a creamy, pliable texture and a milky flavour. However, semi-soft cheese tends to have a more pronounced flavour than soft cheese—many varieties have a rich, sharp, salty taste to them.

Names to watch for: Gouda, Havarti, Friulana, Goat Cheddar, Bucherondin and Le Brin.

Quick tip: Bucherondin is an entertainer’s delight! This delectably tangy goat cheese comes in a log shape, so it’s easy to cut into perfect portions for your cheese platter.

Fun fact: The rinds on semi-soft cheeses are delicious—enjoy them as part of the cheese.

Hard Cheese

Flavour and texture profile: Hard cheese (also called aged cheese) has usually aged for at least two years. During the aging process, moisture evaporates from the cheese, giving it a solid, heavy (and sometimes crumbly) texture. Hard cheese has a strong, salty and even intense flavour. Over time, some hard cheeses even develop a sweetness to them (like an aged Gouda).

Names to watch for: Aged Provolone, Spillembergo, Manchego, Piave, Aged Cheddar and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Quick tip: Don’t slice your extra-aged cheese ahead of time. Serve it as a wedge; this way your guests can cut through it on their own and will enjoy the cheese at its fullest flavour.

Fun fact: Lactose intolerant? Listen up! Lactose is expelled (or converted to lactic acid) as cheese ages. As a result, many hard cheeses contain very little to no lactose.  t8n

Wine Pairings for Your Cheese Platter

Not every wine-and-cheese pairing is created equal. Generally speaking, soft cheeses go best with fruity white wines, like a Sauvignon Blanc or a Riesling. Full-bodied reds, like a Bordeaux, Chianti or Rioja, work better with hard cheeses.

Cheese Platter Serving Tips

Provide a different knife for each type of cheese on your platter.

Label each type of cheese for your guests.

Serve a selection of sweet and salty snacks with your platter.

Serve about four ounces of cheese per guest.