Create your own picture-perfect cheese plate

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When assisting customers putting together a cheese plate, I try to determine what cheeses they like, local and/or imported, what the occasion is, who and what size their audience is, and their budget. After getting an idea of what they're trying to accomplish, I suggest using cheeses from different animal's milk, mixing different textures and different flavor profiles. Then, there are the choices of which cracker or bread, a spread or a preserve, which nuts, which olives, fresh fruit or dried fruit, which meat or whether they even want any accompaniments other than crackers or bread.

If your cheese plate is one of many items being served, generally figure on three to four ounces of cheese per person. Double the amounts when the cheese plate is the main event. Please note my suggested per-person amounts are not for each cheese, but rather the total amount of cheese to be purchased per person.

When presenting a cheese plate, I like to keep some of each cheese whole and cut some of each into bite-size portions. It's best to cut portions on a different cutting surface and then transfer to the board, plate or slate on which the cheese will be presented. When cutting cheese into portions for your cheese board, it's best to cut soft cheeses cold and hard cheeses that have been brought to room temperature. When organizing my cheese board, I try to keep accompaniments from touching the cheese so as not to mix flavors. Provide appropriate utensils for each item. Cheese should be served at room temperature around 70 degrees or slightly less.

Cheese suggestions

- Cow's milk cheese: Brillat-Savarin. Who doesn't love a triple cr me? Alternates are Delice de Bourgogne, St. Andre or our local St. Stephen from Four Fat Fowl.

- Goat's milk cheese: Midnight Moon. Even people who say they don't like goat cheese like this firm, Gouda-like cheese with a caramel finish. Alternates are goat cheddars and Humboldt Fog.

- Sheep's milk cheese: Manchego Semi Curado. The three month-aged, semi-firm version of the most popular Spanish cheese is always enjoyed. An alternate and more complex choice is Ossau-Iraty from the French Basque country.

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Accompaniments

- I don't think you can ever go wrong with thinly sliced Prosciutto as a meat.

- I particularly like Marcona almonds, which are sold fried in olive oil and salted.

- Bright-green Castelvetrano olives are mild, fresh and buttery.

- Fresh figs in season are hard to beat, but dried figs work well, too.

- A well-made sour cherry preserve does well with most cheeses.

- I generally prefer a sliced baguette, but a nice, crisp, neutral-flavored cracker is good, too. If you can't decide, do both!


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