Hello everyone! This past weekend was a busy one. My sister and her husband are expecting their first baby, so Mother Cheesemonger and I hosted a baby shower last weekend. For me, this meant preparing a cheese platter for about 30 people. I didn’t know any of the guests, so I jumped into “entertaining mode,” and recalled a few principles that may help you for your next party’s cheese course! Moreover, my sister does not eat cheese, so I could make my selection independent of worries of raw milk or soft cheeses.
Know your crowd.
In this case, I actually didn’t know the people attending, so I kept my cheese selection on the “safe” side. I stayed away from the very aggressive cheeses like the washed rinds, and kept the Stilton on reserve in the refrigerator to be released if needed. If I had known more about my guests’ taste preferences, I might have made some different selections.
A mixture of softer and harder cheeses and milk types keeps taste buds guessing. In my case, I chose a soft-ripened cheese from France, a gouda style cheese (Rembrandt, from the Netherlands), a cheddar (Vermont Cabot Clothbound), an alpine style cheese (French Comté), and a harder sheep’s milk cheese washed in wine. One cheese from each family of cheeses allows for more variety! Other families to choose from include tommes, soft goat cheeses, aged goat cheeses, feta, fresh cheeses, washed rinds, blue cheeses, water buffalo milk cheeses, or seasoned cheeses.
How much cheese do you need?
If other food is being served, 1.5-2 ounces per person should suffice. If cheese is the main event, then anticipate 2-3 ounces per person. In my case, there was a lot of other food around the cheese, so I only needed about 1.5 oz. per person, or just under 3 lbs for my 30 guests. It’s an inexact science, the estimation of how much people will eat, but this is a general guideline.
Dress up your cheese plate with condiments.
You can dress up a cheese platter in so many ways. The simplest method is to include fresh or dried fruit, honey, and nuts on the platter, but if you have time to go that extra mile, do some testing beforehand and treat your gourmand guests to individualized pairings of cheese with jams, honeys, chocolates, mustards, or beverages. That day, because I had to travel and also take care of decorating, photography, and my sister’s makeup, I kept things on the simpler side!
Have fun plating your cheese!
When preparing cheese for a plate, I go by the rule “no cubes allowed.” Ideally, you want each piece to represent the full cheese, including a bit of rind (the outside) and the paste (the inside part of the cheese). If you can cut your cheese so that each piece includes both, you get a gold star! If this is not possible, think of the next best way to show off the cheese—you could try cutting it into slivers, small wedges, shavings, batonnets, rustic cut it into chunks, or even melon ball it (if it’s the appropriate consistency!). Some softer cheeses like Harbison or Queso la Serena are conducive to having the top rind cut off so that people can just spoon out the inside onto their cracker. You can also leave softer cheeses whole on the plate, but I’ve seen several hard cheeses end up on the floor because there was no elegant way for guests to cut them with the little cheese knives that had been laid out.
When it comes to arranging your condiments and cheeses on a platter, let your creativity shine! This is the moment to loose your inner cheese Jackson Pollock!
Regarding serving utensils and knives, it is cleaner to reserve one knife per cheese, or keep toothpicks on hand for the chunks of harder cheese to pick up.
We served the cheese with loads of fresh baguette from our favorite local bakery, Les Baux (Sacramento, CA).
In addition to taking care of the cheese, I made some tassel garlands to decorate the house. I’m pretty chuffed about how they all turned out! They made the home so festive! Happily, my sister and her guests all enjoyed the day!
If you want to see a more dressed up cheese plate, take a look at my holiday cheese plate and pairings blog post!