By grouping together cheeses with distinctly different tastes (aged, soft, hard or blue), then mixing them with sweet and savory food pairings, a cheese plate can be the standout appetizer of a social occasion. Suggested ingredients: 1/4 pound manchego cheese; 1/4 pound fontina cheese; 1/4 pound goat cheese; 1/4 pound blue cheese; 1/2 pound figs; 1/4 pound prosciutto, thinly sliced; salted crackers; unsalted crackers; olives; herbs; black pepper; one bunch red grapes; one bunch green grapes; baguette; honey; raspberry compote.
Semi-Soft: Fontina Cheese
Fontina cheese is a perfect fit for guests with earthy, woody palates. Almost mushroom-like in its flavoring, fontina cheese is best served with truffles and meats. For a perfect mix of sweet and savory, consider serving fontina with prosciutto and grapes.
Aged: Goat Cheese
Goat cheese is one of the most versatile types of cheese available. In addition to having a wide variety of tastes, it's also sold in many different shapes: logs, wheels, cones and wedges. Serving Tip: Coat the top and sides with a mix of lavender, thyme and black pepper to add texture and make it more appealing to guests with different palates.
Semi-Hard: Manchego Cheese
Considered by many to be an acquired taste, manchego cheese is characterized by its buttery taste. Almonds and olives pair well with this mild, Spanish cheese.
Blue cheese is characterized by its sharp and salty taste. In addition to the flavoring, blue cheese is also known for its strong scent. If guests find its characteristics too strong, figs can help sweeten the salty taste.
Pairings: Crackers, Bread, Dips
Once you've curated your cheeses, it's important to choose versatile accompaniments. Consider a mix of salted and unsalted crackers, as well as shortbreads and baguettes. Dips like honey and raspberry compote are commonly used to counterbalance sweetness or saltiness. For a more polished look, present dips in white ramekins layered on top of wood cutting boards.
Set Up the Spread
Once all condiments, pairings and cheeses have been removed from their packaging and properly prepared for presentation, arrange them all together on an elevated vessel above the crackers, bread and condiments. This will allow the variety of cheeses to stand out as a culinary feature and provide easy access for guests. Serving Tips: Set out a separate knife for each type of cheese. Label each cheese with suggested accompaniments. Keep more pungent cheeses on a separate plate so they don't overpower the other cheeses. Take cheeses out of the refrigerator at least one hour before serving; they'll be more flavorful and easier to slice.