Cheese plates are a great, easy thing to serve at a dinner party. How hard is it to unwrap a bunch of cheeses and throw them on a wooden board? They work well before or after the meal, and allow the host to impress guests with some funky, novel flavors. While picking out cheeses can be overwhelming, try picking out four to five that work well together. Here are some suggestions for constructing an amazing cheese plate.

Something Old, Something New

The old adage applies well to cheese plates. It works best if you vary them by texture, age, milk type, and manufacturer. For instance, your plate could include a soft fresh goat cheese, a pungent washed rind cow's milk cheese, a semi-firm aged sheep's milk, and a spicy blue. Speaking of blues, you should offer no more than two blues on a plate, otherwise you risk overwhelming the other cheeses. You can also vary the plate by geography, but sometimes it's fun to keep that fixed, like an all-French or all-American platter.

Keep It Simple

Too much variety is overwhelming. Try offering six different cheeses at the most. If serving a small party, go with fewer. When buying cheeses, assume that the average guest will eat about 0.75 ounces each.

Befriend Your Cheesemonger

Never be afraid to ask your cheesemonger questions. He or she won't hurt you. If shopping at a store with knowledgeable cheesemongers, they should be more than happy to shepherd the selection process.

1. Ask which cheeses pair well based on your likes and dislikes.

2. Tell them what food you'll also be serving so they can match flavors.

3. If you're at a store with no knowledgeable cheesemonger, leave and go somewhere else.

Accessorize

Everyone likes a crusty bread with cheese, but it's best to stick with a milder bread to avoid overpowering the cheese. Think baguette over San Francisco sourdough. The same is true for crackers—steer clear of crackers flavored with onion, garlic, or other spices. Try pairing the cheeses with charcuterie, seasonal fruits, dried fruits, and nuts. Also worth a try: quince paste (sometimes known as membrillo).

Tools of the Trade

Don't worry about buying a wooden board made specifically for cheese. Any wooden cutting board will look nice.

Also, don't worry about buying a special set of cheese knives. It's a good idea to give each cheese a separate knife, but don't buy a bunch if you'll never use them again. The one exception is splurging on a soft cheese knife—the kind with holes down the length of the blade. Just one will suffice. They facilitate the slicing of soft, supple selections like Camembert or Reblochon.

Anyone else have other suggestions for making a great cheese plate?

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