Snacks on Snacks on Snacks: Picking a Perfect Cheese Plate

It's intimidating, I know.
It’s intimidating, I know.

When I was in college, there was this fancy cheese counter at the fancy grocery, and the boy who worked there was SO. CUTE. I spent way too much of my college student budget at that place, but it was totally worth it because that guy became my boyfriend!

JUST KIDDING. He had no idea what my name was, but he did teach me some cool stuff about cheese and now I am pro status at picking out the perfect cheese plate for any soiree. No matter where you live, your grocery store probably has a nice selection of cheeses, so take this advice with you when you go to reach maximum satisfaction level with your selections. Many of the nicer shops have a little remainder bin in the case, so you can try really small portions of new stuff for a pittance. This is my recommendation to you, unless you’re throwing quite the party. My suggestions are after the jump.

The biggest mistake people make is just picking up stuff that looks good and calling it a day. You want the whole thing to be cohesive, right? Don’t just grab and go. Here’s what I picked (some fancy charcuterie too!) from that display case.

Four cheeses, two meats. Overall, you probably want about six options since the idea is grazing.
Four cheeses, two meats. Overall, you probably want about six options since the idea is grazing.

Get a mix of colors, textures, milks, and flavors– I picked a sheep cheese, a goat cheese, a blended cheese, and a more traditional cow cheese.

Semi-soft, creamy, blended cheese.
Semi-soft, creamy, cow’s milk cheese.

Your first one here is the Basil’s Smoked Bruder. It’s a Bavarian cheese and it really calls to mind something like a gouda. I dig it– very likeable. In this vein is, like I said, a gouda, a smoked gruyere, or something fun and exotic your particular cheesemonger recommends.

Semi hard, sheep cheese.
Semi hard, sheep cheese.

This’d be your Lambchopper, a slightly aged American sheep cheese. It’s my favorite of the day, no question. Really good, slightly nutty, very buttery. God, so tasty.

Hard, cow's milk cheese.
Hard, cow’s milk cheese.

Alright, next is the Leicester Red. I will admit I got tricked by this one. It was sharp for sure (which was my intent), but it had an unexpected and very forward grassiness to it. I didn’t love it, but it definitely fit the “wild card” bill I was hoping to fill with its odd flavor profile and bright color. It’s also a little harder– something you definitely want. Other things in that vein are cheddars, colbys, manchegos, and things like that. You can do that part just by touch alone.

I chose two semi-soft cheeses, but I really like to round things out with a very creamy cheese, maybe a brie or something like it. Do what you like.

I forgot to take the photo of the last, the bleu d’avergne, but it did everything I wanted it to. It was crumbly (feta and rocquefort also fit the bill!), very strongly flavored, and it has varied color throughout. I love that. You can see it all the way on the left of my cheese plate picture:

Add some olives, sliced fruit, and candied nuts to round out your flavors. I like a little olive oil and honey, too, but that's a personal choice.
Add some olives, sliced fruit, and candied nuts to round out your flavors. I like a little olive oil and honey, too, but that’s a personal choice.

I tossed on some Genoa-style salami, sliced very thin (the butcher will be happy to help!) and some sorpressata, which is spicier. Speck, some country ham, or some other cured meat is another way to round it out with some salty, savory goodness.

So what questions do you have? Which cheeses are your favorite? Are you making your cheese plate on the cheese plate I showed you how to make? Just a thought.

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