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PICK UP YOUR CHEESE PLATTER GAME

If you’ve ever stood in the cheese section in any grocery store, you’re well aware that creating a fantastic cheese plate can be super intimidating. There are literally thousands of cheeses from all over the world! How do you narrow it down? What cheeses go well together?

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The first thing to remember when creating a cheese plate is that you want a good balance of flavors (strong to mild), textures (soft, semi-soft, semi-hard, and hard), colors, shapes, and sizes.

When planning a board, think: “Something old, something new, something goat, and something blue.”

The old cheese meaning 'aged' is an aged Cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Gruyère, and Gouda. The longer a cheese ages, the harder and crumblier the texture becomes. They tend to be saltier and full of great flavor. But remember: a little goes a long way with really aged cheese. It really packs a punch.

There’s also Brie and Camembert, both which have a soft, bloomy, edible, and flavorful rind that results from the surface of the cheese. The cheese itself is usually very soft, creamy, and sometimes buttery or tangy. The longer it ages, the runnier and more delicious the center becomes.

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New cheeses are those that haven’t aged quite as long. Fresh cheeses like mozzarella, burrata, ricotta, or mascarpone are part of this category. They are milky-white with a higher moisture content and are very, very mild. Younger cheeses also have a much softer texture.

There are dozens and dozens of goat cheeses available — fresh and aged. You’ll even find brie made from goat’s milk. Cheeses made from sheep or goat milk tends to have a stronger (some would say gamier) taste than cow’s milk.

Almost every cheese board includes a blue cheese. The blue refers to the blue veins that result when a cheese is inoculated with mold and allowed to age. Blues can be very strong if they’ve been aged for a long time, or mild in newer cheeses.

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So once you have chosen the cheese, now what? A well-laid cheese platter will look like a work of art with its wedges, wheels, logs, or squares. Three to five cheeses make a really good board.

Be sure to unwrap the cheese to let it breathe before you serve it. Cheese should be served at room temperature, so plan on pulling it out of the fridge about 30-60 minutes before serving. To keep cheese from drying out, you can lightly cover it with a slightly damp towel.

Typically, a board should be arranged milder to stronger cheeses, separate any really stinky cheeses from the others so the odor doesn’t transfer to milder cheeses.

Labeling cheeses is a good idea, especially for your more cautious guests!

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Don’t forget the accompaniments, have fun with sweet and salty accompaniments, from assorted crackers with seeds or herbs, hearty whole-grain artisan breads, to sweet fruit and nut breads, and mini toasts.

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Pickles, olives, preserved meats like salami and prosciutto, and bright marinated sun-dried tomatoes add a savory note.

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Fresh fruit is a great accompaniment to any cheese course. Pears, apples, grapes, and figs go best with cheese, but other seasonal fruits are also great.

Try dried apricots, figs, and dates with cheese along with candied, toasted or raw nuts. Quince and guava pastes are traditional with salty cheeses. Honey and honey comb, jams, jellies, and other preserves are other popular sweet cheese board accompaniments.

Don’t forget to have wine, beer, or fruit juices on hand as well. They help cut the richness of the cheese and also clear the palate.

Traditionally, wooden boards with a handle are used for cheese boards. But marble slabs, ceramic and glass cake platters, shallow bowls or plates, and other serving platters make pretty boards, too. Cutting boards can also double as cheese boards.

Each cheese should have its own knife. The long knife with the forked tip is good for cutting softer cheeses, like Brie and Camembert, and doubles as a spreader. Sometimes you’ll see it with holes down the blade which helps keep the cheese from sticking to the blade. It can be used to chip away at harder cheeses and spear individual portions of cheese. The spade-shaped knife has a sharp edge for cutting hard cheese into slices. The pointed fork is good for chipping away at harder, aged cheeses like Cheddar. The flat knife that looks like a shovel is good for cutting cheese into cubes or slices. The small rounded knife is a spreader for soft cheeses.

Happy cheese shopping!

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