Holiday entertaining is in full swing and nothing says “party” like a simple, thoughtfully prepared platter of local artisan cheeses.
Planning noshes and nibbles for your festive soirée need not be difficult, and cheese is one of my favorite appetizer courses. It’s easy to serve and pairs beautifully with complimentary foods and a variety of beverages. As a general rule, figure on buying about 2-3 ounces of cheese per person for an appetizer course, or 4-6 ounces per person if it will be the main attraction.
Consider these tips for creating a standout cheese platter that will entice your guests:
- For best flavor, take cheese out of the refrigerator about an hour before serving.
- Allow your guests to experience and develop an appreciation for different cheeses by choosing varietals that vary in texture and range from mild to bold in flavor.
- Showcase cheeses made from cow, goat, and sheep’s milk. Each has unique qualities.
- Your senses play a critical role in how you enjoy food. First, we feast with our eyes. Arrange the cheeses artfully on a wood or ceramic platter. Label each and include a few tasting notes. *To save time, peel the label from the packaging and place on a card by each cheese.
- Serve with assorted rustic baguette slices, artisan crackers, charcuterie, olives, sweet/savory jam, chutney, honey, nuts, or dried/fresh fruit (figs, apples, and pears are great options).
- Try pairing cheese with wine, beer, mead, and hard cider.
For quick reference, I’ve included a short list of locally crafted cheeses that would be featured on my “dream” cheese platter. You can serve these award-winning bites to your guests with confidence and pride.
Bold, Full-Flavored: You can’t go wrong with Point Reyes Farmstead Creamery cow’s milk Original Blue–their tangy, Danish-inspired flagship cheese–or the milder Stilton-style Bay Blue which picks up notes of salted caramel and sweet butterscotch on the palate. (*Bay Blue received the Specialty Food Association’s Gold sofi Award for outstanding cheese in its class).
Milder-Flavored Crowd Pleasers: Tomales Farmstead Creamery goat-milk Kenne are little, soft-ripened squares with notes of cream, yeast, and “a faint hint of citrus on the finish.” The cheese is dry salted and left to age for two weeks, during which they are periodically turned and flipped.
Barinaga Ranch Farmstead farm-house style Txiki (pronounced “cheeky”) is made in classic Basque tradition from fresh raw sheep’s milk. This firmer bodied cheese tastes of sweet milk with hints of salted, roasted walnuts. Txiki brought home a Silver medal for the second consecutive year at the World Cheese Awards, and was one of four cheese chosen for Sunset Magazine’s 2011 “Hot Picks”.
Weirauch Farm & Creamery semi-soft aged cow’s milk Tomme and Tomme Fresh has a mild, milky tang and creamy texture that balances more assertive cheeses on the platter. Tomme is the quintessential pleaser that appeals to most every palate. I’m also a fan of their Good Food award-winning farmstead sheep’s milk Saint Rose; a semi-soft favorite with a nutty flavor that intensifies with age and notes of floral and citrus on the finish.
Nicasio Valley Cheese Company’s Foggy Morning is a soft, farm-style fresh cheese (similar in texture to cream cheese) has a subtle tang and is made from 100% organic farmstead cow’s milk. This delicate cheese is also available flavored with organic basil and garlic. Voted Best Fromage Blanc 2015 by the American Cheese Society, it also makes killer cheesecake!
Check out this two-minute video from the Cooking Guru recipe series and follow along as cheese expert Lynne Devereux shows me how to prepare this delicious cheese.
What cheese from your local area would make your “dream” cheese plate?