Building the Perfect Cheese Platter

Tis the season for holiday parties and one of the most popular things to serve at any event is a cheese platter. They’re also very trendy at the moment with photos everywhere of large cutting boards overflowing with cheese, charcuterie items, fruit, vegetables and crackers. They look like a large artistic arrangement and can sometimes appear intimidating to someone who wants to create their own version. But don’t worry! You don’t have to be a professional caterer to build a fabulous cheese platter. Just visit the FRESH Charcuterie & Cheese department and follow some of our basic guidelines. Soon you will be creating your own cheesy masterpiece, and everyone will be posting photos of your holiday platter.

Choose a Surface: Large cutting boards, ceramic platters, marble and glass. You can also do a grouping of small boards to separate cheese, fruit and vegetables.

Pick Your Cheeses: The standard rule is 4 types of cheese – old, new, stinky, blue. The old represents a hard, aged cheese like an aged cheddar, gouda, parmesan or gruyere. The new is a soft cheese like brie, goat, camembert or a cheese spread. The stinky is typically blue cheese – gorgonzola, Roquefort, artisanal American blue or stilton – also fontina and taleggio pack a pungent punch. For the wild card, it can be anything you enjoy. A flavored gouda, wine or beer infused cheese or a semi-soft cheese.

Charcuterie: Choose 3 types of meat with different textures and shapes. From the charcuterie case I usually pick Prosciutto di Parma or Speck Alto Adige, also a salami and some type of artisanal deli meat. In the FRESH case, Creminelli and Molinari have traditional Italian salami that can be bought by the slice or a whole link. Many are infused with different flavors like wine, truffles, garlic or fennel. The artisanal deli meats are things like Soppressata, Coppa or Capicola. All of these can be fanned out, rolled or loosely gathered in clusters on the platter.

Accompaniments: Other things to add to the platter are olives, nuts, fruit paste, honey, dried fruit, vegetables, dip, crackers and bread. It’s important to bring in elements with different textures, contrasting flavors and a variety of color. Fruit paste, chutney and honey are great to serve with strong cheeses. They balance the flavor with a contrast of sharp and sweet. A small bowl of hummus from the dip bar can be dressed up with olive oil, herbs or spices. Also, fruits and vegetables are, of course, there for eating but can also serve as a divider between the cheeses.

When it comes to crackers, I like to find a few with different shapes, textures and flavors. Panzanella crackers are perfect for any type of cheese and can be found near the salad bar, along with housemade flatbread that is thin and crispy. There is a great assortment of different crackers in the aisles and artisan crisps like Kii Naturals are an interesting visual element and delicious. Stop by the bakery, too, for fresh baked bread. Bakery staff will slice any loaf and then before serving brush it with olive oil and broil for 2 to 4 minutes.

Functional & Coordinated Accessories: Small bowls to hold olives, nuts, vegetables, dip or spreadable cheese can also anchor the board and create different sections on the platter. You can also put crackers or bread in a separate basket on the side. Remember to have multiple cheese knives, small forks, spoons or tongs. You can also have decorative picks or small signs that identify the cheeses and meats. Try to match the accessories to fit the character of the platter.

Building the Platter: Before you even unwrap the cheese, decide where you want your cheeses and larger accessories to be on the board. Space them out, but also recognize them as primary focal points on the board. Other things like meats, fruit, vegetables and accompaniments can gather around each cheese. Decide how much space each element will need and also take into consideration that height creates visual interest, so piles and clusters can make up for lack of space. Begin building your platter 1 hour before serving. This gives you time to create your arrangement and let the cheese and meat come to room temperature.

Garnish is the Final Touch: Once you’ve built the platter see where there are spaces that need to be filled between various elements. Pick a leafy garnish like thyme, bay leaves, savory, basil, rosemary or Italian parsley to fill in those spaces.

How Much to Buy: A general rule for portion size is 2 ounces per cheese per person plus various sides like olives, nuts, fruit paste and charcuterie items. When buying charcuterie, order by the slice rather than weight. Plan 3 to 5 slices per person total. So for a party of 10 people I would get 10 slices of Prosciutto, 10 to 12 slices of salami and 10 to 12 slices of artisanal deli meat. Be sure to ask for paper thin slices. Many of the nuances and flavors in these meats cannot be appreciated when sliced thick. Amounts will also vary depending if you are serving other food or a meal. Buy more of both cheese and meat if the platter is all that you are serving.

Published 11/25/19

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