Unless you're escaping on a six-week vacation soon (if so, send me a postcard!), you're likely celebrating the holiday season with a mix of friends, family, neighbors and coworkers. While your charming personality is the greatest contribution to a festive gathering, a tasty and memorable cheese plate is a close second. I always enjoy kicking off a dinner party or friendly gathering with a flavorful and low-maintenance cheese plate, because the stress of cleaning the house, timing dinner and wondering how personalities will mesh is quite enough before adding on the expectations of the holidays.
However, picking flavors, mixing and matching accoutrements and navigating textures can befuddle even the most enthusiastic cheese whiz, so remove the guesswork and try one of these winning combinations to bring the cheer and cheese to your holiday party:
- Soft Cheese: Isigny Sainte-Mère Bonhomme Brie
- Aged Cheddar: Borough Market Clothbound Cheddar
- Goat Gouda: Yodeling Goat
- Creamy Blue: Fourme d'Ambert
- Bread and water crackers
Around the World
- Raw Milk Soft-Ripened: Mons Camembert (France)
- Aged Manchego: El Trigal (Spain)
- Cave-Aged Emmentaler: Kaltbach (Switzerland)
- Blue: Gorgonzola Dolce (Italy)
- Marcona almonds
- Organic fig spread
- Baguette rounds
- Raincoast Crisps
The Bold and the Beautiful
- Aged Cheddar: Black Creek Cheddar
- Aged Goat Cheese: Vermont Creamery Bonne Bouche
- Roquefort: Papillon Organic Roquefort
- Soft-Ripened Brie (with a rustic, bloomy rind): Cellars at Jasper Hill Harbison
- Chocolate-covered nuts (Tip: look for Piedra des Lunas!)
- Peruvian drop peppers
- Dried fruit crisps and sliced bread
Choose Your Cheese Adventure
Although those are fail-proof options, don't be afraid to build your own cheese plate. Set yourself up for success by reading these eight tips first:
- Mix it up! Offer a selection of different styles of cheeses. Three to four options work, and plan on two ounces per person.
- Let them breath. Letting cheeses "breathe" for an hour before serving enhances the flavors. They should be served at room temperature.
- Label each cheese. This way your guests know what they're enjoying.
- Buy at the right time. Purchase cheeses just a day or two before your event so they are at their best.
- Befriend our cheesemongers. They can point out what's best to eat now.
- Serve both bread and crackers. Different textures enhance the experience. Some favorites are crostini crackers, water crackers and the baguette.
- Don't forget the savory details. Additions like olives, roasted nuts and marinated vegetables are key.
- Add some sweets. The sweetness in fruit complements the saltiness of cheese.