As much as we’d like to think there is the ultimate cheese platter, there are literally thousands of combinations to choose from which makes this an impossible task. Instead, be content with the ultimate platter of the day. Rather than strive for perfection, strive for imperfection and uniqueness because that’s exactly what makes an ultimate cheese platter. Platters which have all of the individual components placed with absolute precision just won’t do. They should embody a work of art to be proud of, where beauty can be found in ugliness – there’s no place for eagle eye individual almond or raisin placement here. Let the flavours loose, they were made to mingle in the platter party rather than be exiled to the corner of the room by themselves.
Before starting out with cheese platter ideas, make sure there is something appropriate to serve it on. Most of the time a wooden household serving board will suit and failing that a chopping board will do as a last resort. If you’re going to put in the effort of making your ultimate cheese platter there really should be a board fitting for the occasion. Our favourite are hand made resin cheese boards which look as spectacular as the goodies on it taste.
Cheese Platter 101: Choosing the types of cheeses
The aim is to create a balanced flavour profile in terms of different types of cheese and strengths. There’s no use in having multiple different types of cheddars (unless you’re a cheddar fanatic, in which case go for it) otherwise you’ll be selling yourself short. As a minimum, three cheeses will provide a nice spread but if the occasion allows for more then five or six will cover an excellent range. Go for quality over quantity when making a selection, opt for artisan or gourmet cheeses where possible. Nine types are listed below, this is by no means exhaustive but choosing from the different types of cheese will provide a balanced selection.
Soft goats – fresh cheese made from goat milk, often tangy and easy to consume in large quantities (Chevre, fresh curd).
White mould – gooey with a soft centre and white rind (Camembert, Brie).
Stretched curd – mostly used in melting and in salads but can provide a nice balance to a cheese board (Italian cheese styles such as Mozarella including Bocconcini, Provolone).
Brined curd – although not commonly found on a cheese board, it can indeed be a welcome addition (Feta, Halloumi – fried before serving).
Washed rind – washed regularly during the maturing process results in a distinctive pungent smell and sticky orange surface (Epoisses, Pont l’Eveque, Taleggio).
Semi-hard – usually mild and nutty in flavour (Gouda, Edam, swiss styles such as Gruyère and Emmental).
Cheddar – deserves its own category. Ranging from 3 months to 18 months old, cheddar is iconically enjoyed around the world.
Hard – not only for grating over pasta (Pecorino, Parmesan, other aged cheeses such as Aged Gouda).
Blue – ranging from soft to hard and mild to “ka-pow” in intensity, you either love it or you hate it (Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Stilton).
Try to select at least one goat milk or sheep milk cheese too, you’ll be able to taste the different compared to more commonly found cow milk cheeses. Make sure the cheese is taken out of the fridge about an hour before serving to get it closer to room temperature, this gives enough time to bring the flavours out. Cold cheese just won’t do your ultimate cheese platter justice.
How much cheese per person?
It will depend on the occasion, but use this as a guide and adjust as needed (this assumes the cheese is part of a platter with accompaniments):
Before dinner: 30-50 g per person. This will ensure there is enough room for the main event.
After dinner or dessert: 50-75 g per person. After all, there is always room for dessert.
Mid afternoon: 75-100 g per person. We’ve all been victim to the 3pm afternoon snack attack, so if serving mid-afternoon allow for guests to come hungry.
Main meal: 150-180 g per person. This doesn’t sound like much but considering cheese is high in protein it will fill you up.
Accompaniments – the usual suspects
Cheese platter ideas and choices for accompaniments seem almost infinite at times, but there’s a few items that should be included on every platter. There are a few people who eat cheese without the cracker (more room left for cheese), but most people need something to put the cheese on. Enter the world of crackers, lavash, crispbread, flat breads and baked bread. When choosing a cracker, structural integrity is key. Make sure it is more than wafer thin to withstand holding your chosen cheese. There’s nothing more frustrating that spreading a gooey chunk of brie on a new cracker only to have it disintegrate in your hand. You can’t go wrong with a crusty baguette in the mix too, as well as a fruit and nut sourdough bread (highly recommended to pile high with blue cheese).
At least one paste/chutney/spread to complement the flavours of the cheese will also be needed. Quince paste is the obvious choice but other flavours including fig, plum, apple or strawberry are equally as good (if not better). Depending on the size of the cheese platter you may need a few different options here, so select and variety of different chutneys, pickles, jams and/or other spreads and you can’t go wrong. Honey drizzled over a fresh goat or sheep cheese works wonders. There’s no definitive right and wrong flavour combinations most of the time, it’s more about discovering what you love. Don’t be afraid of trying something new, as long as there is a selection of different types of cheese and accompanying flavours to choose from you’ll be sure to find at least a few combinations that you’ll absolutely love.
Throw in a handful of olives, gherkins, pickled onions or other favourite bitter or sour items to round off the sweetness of the paste(s).
The addition of cured meats, antipasto, dips or anything else is completely up to you, it’s your creation after all. Go ham, literally, or don’t. Just whatever happens, please don’t limit the accompaniments to quince paste and crackers alone. Those two items are regarded very highly but there are so many more flavour combinations out there!
Accompaniments – the (un)usual suspects
Here are some of the the more uncommon but equally delicious suggestions if you’re ready to take it to the next level:
Nut spread: move over plain peanut butter, we’re talking almond, cashew, walnut and other nut combinations. These pair well with hard cheeses such as cheddar and swiss style cheeses.
Tea: wine isn’t the only beverage that goes well with cheese! The humble tea leaf has a lot to offer in the flavour department. Pair lighter teas with softer cheeses with milder flavours and fuller flavour teas with stronger cheeses.
Balsamic vinegar: pour a small amount directly over an aged dried cheese and dig in. Flavoured balsamic vinegars also work a treat, including fig or pomegranate to give it a bit of a sweeter edge.
Chilli jam: more of a chutney than a jam, this pairs well with a variety of cheeses but chunky chilli jam with goats cheese is a favourite.
If after reading all of that and you’ve just thrown your hands up in the air thinking there are too many variables, you can just get cheese delivered from The Cheese Riot (you can always pretend you made it, we promise not to tell).