Oh, cheese plates. We love you so. But we don’t love the idea of spending all our money on a few hunks of fermented milk, regardless of how tasty they may be (or how fancy they make us feel when we're sampling them at the local cheese shop).
It's time to tackle the best way to display the ultimate party appetizer: a cheese board that's worthy of a hip wine bar but doesn't actually cost what they'd charge (whew!). The first piece of advice we need to share is this: Don’t make a cheese plate when you’ve invited your entire neighborhood over. Good cheese (read: edible, non-sawdusty) is pricey, even if you aren't going for the creme de la creme, so it’s better to bust out a cheese plate for a (special) group of fewer than 10. Once you’ve got the guest list on lock, follow these tips and you’ll be snacking on a tasty platter in no time.
You’ll need one (duh). If you don’t have a big, flat serving tray, assemble the cheese on a large cutting board. If the only cutting board you're rocking is a flimsy plastic one, don't be afraid to use small bowls and plates. You can place them on a dishtowel to catch all the crumbs and to lend a touch of cute.
Pick four cheeses to start. You'll want to select two from the soft family, such as Brie, Camembert, blue, fontina, Havarti, and Monterey Jack, and two harder cheeses, such as manchego, Parmesan, cheddar, Gouda, Swiss, and Gruyère. And guess what? You can find all of these right in your grocery store. No fancy-foodie-WTF-is-that-smell cheese shop required.
You could also say YOLO and add a vegan nut-based cheese—guaranteed to make three people at your party really happy and the rest really curious. We think four is the magic number because you'll be satisfying all cheese preferences (there are plenty of those).
They're the mighty vessels that transport the cheese from plate to mouth in a matter of seconds. For crackers, we say pick two. Our favorites are buttery, round crackers; woven (like a Triscuit); seeded; and gluten-free (we think rice are the best). You don't need more than two, because c'mon, it's all about the cheese. You also can’t go wrong with a thinly sliced baguette, because bread.
The ideal bite here is a layered situation: Start with a cracker, then cheese, and then a hit of something sweet to offset the saltiness. You only need to select two here: jam or fruit compote, honey, grapes, or thinly sliced apple or pear. Our vote? Honey and grapes.
No cheese board is complete without a few nondairy, salty snacks, preferably meat or pickled. Pick two: tiny pickles, grainy mustard, salami, or prosciutto. Prosciutto can get $$$, so we say go for salami and mustard. And hell, why not throw in some pickles for good luck? Layer your cracker. Eat. Repeat.