How to Create the Perfect Cheese Tray

As the holiday season approaches, thoughts turn to what to serve guests. Here in Wisconsin the obvious bet is cheese and crackers. And while grocery store cheese trays are the simplest way to go, you’ll tend to get the standard, mild cheeses that don’t really excite people. Mostly made up of Colby, Mild Cheddar and Swiss cheeses, they offer typical cheeses that everyone likes but is too ashamed to admit are uninteresting and ordinary. If you want to really impress your guests, I have a few suggestions for you…

VARIETY

A great cheese tray offers a sample of aged, semi-soft and hard cheeses to tempt a variety of people. Cheeses fall into a number of categories: soft fresh cheeses, hard cheeses, aged cheeses and semi-soft to name a few. Pairing a hard cheese such as Parmesan with a semi-soft cheese like Gouda, and adding a fresh cheese like Blue will offer variety in style and taste as well as make the plate visually appealing!

TEXTURE

Different styles of cheese hit the palate in different ways. Softer cheeses have a creamier mouth feel and hard cheeses offer a bit more bite and chew. Color is also important and adds that visual aesthetic to the plate. Chutneys and jams add color while nuts, dried fruits and cured meats add visual appeal as well as make terrific accompaniments to the cheeses.

TASTE

Aged cheeses tend to be sharper in flavor and pair well with chocolate. Mild cheeses like Brie or Camembert pair well with tangy mustards or chutneys. Many people eschew the aromatic cheeses like Limburger and aged Brick, but these cheeses are deliciously creamy and tasty when paired with a sweet jam or dried fruits. Limburger dappled with strawberry jam is a delectable treat…Or try topping a pear slice with blue cheese or Gorgonzola – divine!

PRESENTATION

A rustic wooden board or a piece of marble or slate works perfectly as a canvas for displaying cheese. Just make sure you don’t crowd the plate. (Cheese needs to breathe!) Here’s a general rule to go by: Three different varieties of cheese displayed with nuts and fruits will make a visually-interesting and taste-tempting plate for your guests!

Extra Tips

  • Let the cheeses rest for an hour before serving as the coldness will mute the flavors of the cheeses.
  • If cheese is one of many items being served, plan on buying three to four ounces per person.
  • Place a separate knife out for each cheese as people may want to take a smaller sample.
  • Label each cheese so you won’t need to recite the names all evening. For the ultra creative, jot down a few poetic adjectives describing its flavor.
  • As for cutting the cheese? (…you knew that was coming!) Check out this handy dandy cheat sheet:

cheeseportions

Additional resources:

Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s Cheese Variety Guide

Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s Picks and Bites

Amy Wallace is the producer of the America’s Dairyland series on Discover Wisconsin, which airs every Saturday morning at 10 on FSN Wisconsin.

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