6 Steps to Building a Great Cheese Platter

Culinary trends burn out before most people even realize a particular vegetable was having a moment, which is why a lot of folks go for the enduring appeal of a cheese platter when throwing a party. They might seem old fashioned, but most people love the dreamy dairy. And because the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board reported an ever-increasing consumption per capita, cheese platters aren’t in danger of going out of style.

Actually making a cheese platter is where things get confusing. Unless you have a background as a caterer, it’s unlikely you have any idea how much to get, what varieties to buy, and how to make the final product look appealing. With this six-step guide, you’ll be able to make a perfect cheese platter every time.

1. Know your numbers

pile of cheese at a market display
Selection of gourmet cheese | Source: iStock

Before you even think about purchasing any food, make sure you know the number of guests because this determines how much you need. Don’t sweat it if you’re waiting on last-minute RSVPs for a bigger party because you really don’t want to buy anything too far in advance. Epicurious explained cheese keeps best when kept as a whole wheel. Once it’s cut, it starts to dry out and deteriorate.

Once you have your number of guests, do some quick math to figure out a ballpark amount of cheese. Many sources will tell you to stick with 3 to 4 ounces per person, but those estimates usually assume the party will have other food. If you’re sticking with just a cheese platter (and you should for the sake of ease), you’ll need quite a bit more. Real Simple suggested about 3 pounds for eight people, which comes out to 6 ounces per person.

Also consider the number of cheeses you buy. At all costs, resist the urge to buy out your local cheese counter. The Daily Meal said five is really the maximum because any more will just overwhelm your palate. This will also make the actual plating a lot easier later on.

2. Get friendly with your cheesemonger to make selections

man and woman cheesemonger happy to make a sale
Two cheesemongers smiling behind the cheese counter | Source: iStock

Supermarkets are getting better and better when it comes to cheese selections, but you really should make a special trip to a cheese shop or specialty store that has knowledgeable staff. According to Bon Appétit, starting a conversation with an experienced cheesemonger helps them find the best fit for your specific party and tastes. They’re also happy to offer samples, so you know you won’t end up with anything you hate.

The exact varieties are up to you, hopefully with the guidance of your new favorite cheesemonger, but aim for variety. The Kitchn highlighted the six main types: fresh and young, bloomy rinded, washed rind, firm and aged, semi-firm, and blue. Even if you’re a cheddar fiend, stick to one, then make the rest of your selections from the other categories to get the best assortment.

3. Pay just as much attention to the extras

close-up of an Italian antipasto platter with cheese, salami, tomatoes, and bread sticks
Antipasto platter featuring salami and cheese | Source: iStock

After you have your cheeses, be sure to round things out with some great supporting characters. The most essential is some sort of bread or cracker, both if you’re serving a lot of people. As for other accompaniments, olives, nuts, honey, compotes, and fruit are always winning choices. And don’t forget the pickles. Cheese expert Liz Thorpe told Martha Stewart Living the acidity in these foods helps cut through all the richness.

And there’s no reason you have to keep your spread strictly vegetarian. Iowa Girl Eats recommended cured meats like prosciutto and salami. Like with the cheese, don’t go crazy with how many accompanying foods you serve. The idea is to complement the cheese, not compete with it.

4. Get the timing right

slicing white cheddar cheese ona cutting board with a knife
Slices of white cheddar cheese on a cutting board | Source: iStock

Because the texture and taste of cheese are ideal at room temperature, make sure you let your selections sit out before your guests arrive. An hour is usually plenty of time and this lets you get the rest of nibbles ready to go, so use the time to cut fruit and fill bowls with your compotes and nuts.

Also allow enough time to properly prepare the actual cheeses. Forget about letting guests slice their own cheese — it’s too messy and always leads to a cluster of impatient people. Saveur said you should ask your cheesemonger about the best way to serve each selection, then put the advice to use.

5. Mind your presentation

overhead image of a gourmet cheese platter served with bread and wine
Cheese platter with fruit, olives, and bread | Source: iStock

No home cheese platter has to look like a magazine cover, but you should devote a little bit of time trying to make your offerings look nice. The easiest way to do this is with a serving platter large enough to hold everything, then evenly space out your cheeses. From there, Honestly YUM said you can add visual appeal by playing around with height. Don’t worry if your foods end up close together because it usually looks better. Lastly, help your guests know what they’re getting. Every Day with Rachael Ray recommended making very basic labels listing the name of the cheese, the type of milk, and the country of origin.

6. Don’t bother with beverage pairings

group of four friends clinking alcoholic beverages
Friends clink their drinks | Source: iStock

It’s tempting to try to get fancy with beverage pairings, but it’s really not worth the headache. Unless everyone sticks to a single cheese, there isn’t going to be an ideal pairing anyway. As long as you offer a decent home bar, you’ll be set. Better yet, ask your pals to bring drinks.

Follow Christine on Twitter @christineskopec

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