How to Build a Great Cheese Platter

You're hosting a party and want to put out a cheese plate. Where to start? Here's a crash course to guarantee there's something for everyone—and enough to eat.

A successful cheese platter has a variety of textures, flavors, and condiments. Carolyn Stromberg, who hosts private parties and classes through her DC-based business, the Cheese Course, gave us guidelines for putting together a five-cheese sampler. Count on about 1½ ounces per person, or a little more than a quarter pound for four people.

Start with a light, citrusy goat cheese, such as Coupole from Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery, or the Italian Rocchetta, a blend made from goat’s, sheep’s, and cow’s milks.

The next cheese should be a richer cow’s-milk triple-cream—good choices are Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam, the easy-to-find French Brillat-Savarin, or the crème-fraîche-enhanced Délice d’Argental.

Move on to a firm, sheep’s-milk cheese, such as Zamorano or Pecorino foglie di noce, wrapped in walnut leaves.

A bold Alpine-style, or Swiss, should come next. Look for Gruyère by Gourmino or its French counterpart, Comté, marked by an onion-like flavor. The brine-washed Sharfe Maxx is also a smart choice.

See Also:

Cheese Shops

End with a blue cheese. Go with what you like, but two domestic cheeses—Asher Blue from Georgia’s Sweet Grass Dairy and Crater Lake Blue from Oregon’s Rogue Creamery—are good for a crowd.

To accompany a wide range of cheeses, fruits—fresh or in preserves—and nuts, such as candied pecans, are the best pairings. A fig-and-nut cake from the brand Mitica is a versatile option. Membrillo, a quince paste that feels like a firm jelly, is most often served with Spanish sheep’s-milk cheeses but works with lots of others as well. Stromberg likes slicing and crisping the fruit-and-nut bread from Lyon Bakery, available at Cork Market & Tasting Room or seasonally at Union Station’s farmers market, starting in May; a plain baguette is another idea. Be careful with mustard, olives, and cornichons—they can overwhelm mild cheeses.

Great Food in Washington: Where to Find It

This article appears in the May 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.

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