I have loved cheese for as long as I can remember. It started with cream cheese and jelly sandwiches in preschool, morphed into Kraft singles and potato rolls in elementary, picked up some speed with sharp cheddar in my pre-teen years, and once I started saying "yes please" to almost any cheese around freshman year it became a full blown obsession.
When I think of a great cheese plate I always think of my best friend's mom, Kathy Grant (aka the hostest with the mostest). Whenever I show up at the Grant's I am always greeted with a delicious cheese board filled with her latest selections from Citarella. Kathy typically serves her cheese with a ramekin of cornichon, sliced baguette, and sometimes (if you are lucky) a country pate.
Due to my love of cheese a good cheese/charcuterie plate is always a significant part to any cocktail party or friends gathering I host. Understanding full well that I may have more exotic tastes than the group but still wanting to feature cheeses that are interesting I always try to find cheeses that are accessible yet unique. At a recent party Geoff and I hosted I think I finally hit the mark. Evidence: despite the copious amount of cheese served the cheese board was scraped clean before the party was over. Here are my top pics for party cheeses that everyone will enjoy:
Saint Andre: Aptly named for a holy being, this cheese is also known as "the heavenly cheese". A mild edible rind shrouds this butter like creamy dream. Be sure to serve at room temperature and encourage those who "don't like soft cheese" (what!?) to give it a try- it will change their minds.
Midnight Moon: This firm goats milk cheese may be my favorite (at least for now). It is nutty and has a deep brown butter flavor with hints of caramel and while possessing truly interesting flavor notes it is appealing to the masses. If you don't catch it on sale it can be kinda pricy so a good less expensive alternative is drunken goat.
Catamount Hills Cheese: This cheese is a new find and is an exclusive collaboration between Cabbot Cheese and Whole Foods. It may seem like a boring choice next to some of the other exotic cheeses on this list but I promise it does not disappoint. I would buy this over cheddar any day and in fact it is not only a new cheese board favorite but is also now my go to cheese for grilled cheese. It is slightly crystalized and has notes of swiss cheese and parmesan, perfect for eating on a cracker or melted on a sandwich.
La Tur Cheese: Another favorite soft cheese, this one is a bit earthier and tangier than St Andre. The rind is barely detectable and seems to just melt smoothly towards the center. This cheese is no joke and is always the first to go at a party.
St. Agur: I believe you should always serve at least a small wedge of blue cheese on a cheese plate. Not only is it aesthetically beautiful but the sharpness of the cheese tends to wake up the palette after a few servings of the buttery St. Andre. St. Agur is perfect for a cheese plate because it is creamy enough to spread and will not crumble everywhere, it is also a bit more mild than some other blues so it will not offend the less enthusiastic cheese lovers. AND it is down right delicious.
Other tips for a great cheese plate:
- Make sure to take your cheeses out of the refrigerator at least an hour before company arrives- but leave them wrapped so they do not start drying out before company even arrives!
- Do as Kathy does and serve your cheese with cornichon or some other favorite pickle to cut the creaminess of the cheese
- Add grapes or cut ripe figs for a sweeter alternative to pickles
- Softer charcuterie options like a spreadable pate, prosciutto, or very thinly slice salami are best for parties as they are not too tough to chew and easy to apply to crackers and bread
More than anything, experiment, have fun, and enjoy with friends!