[Photograph: @sstiavetti]

Most folks don't consider cheese a priority on Valentine's Day, but I can't think of a more delicious surprise for your best boy or girl. A well-thought-out cheese plate says, "You're awesome enough to warrant something really special." It's even more unique than a typical box of chocolates.

Many people are intimidated by fine, artisan cheeses. I see these people all the time, standing before their local cheese counters, a woeful look on their faces as they poke at wedge after wedge, unsure which to pick. But never fear, cheese-loving readers! Here are three cheeses that will create a nicely balanced cheese plate for Valentine's Day, before or after dinner, or maybe for a couchside picnic in front of the fireplace.

  • Tomme Fleur Verte Chèvrefeuille: A lovely herb-wrapped goat cheese, Tomme Fleur Verte Chèvrefeuille is mild in its goaty tartness and uniquely herbal in its flavor profile. Coated with a thin layer of tarragon, thyme, and crushed pink peppercorns, you'll find a lot of different flavors in every bite. This cheese has a fluffy, tender paste that is neither too chalky or too creamy; it's a perfectly textured goat cheese that may appeal even to those of the non-chevré-loving persuasion.
  • Rogue River Blue: Hands down, my favorite blue cheese. This blue is wrapped in brandy-soaked grape leaves and boasts a gently crunchy, peppery personality. Sweet and spicy with a sinfully lush, fatty feeling on the tongue, Rogue River Blue is a cheese you'll never forget. A dairy revelation. (And if you love it too, be sure to check out these other great Oregon farmstead cheeses.)
  • Cazelle de Saint Affrique: If you love soft, slightly stinky cheeses, you'll adore this little nugget of sheep's milk gold. Beneath the wrinkly rind you'll find a stout, meaty, lactic paste, and at its prime, Cazelle de Saint Affrique oozes a decadent creamline that is nearly worth crying over. You find a pleasing mushroomy-ness and perhaps a note of green asparagus. A great cheese for introducing someone to more complex flavors without overpowering their palate.

Serving notes: Buy your cheeses a few days before serving, if you can, to make sure they have time to ripen a bit before your big day. Always leave cheese out for about 45 minutes before serving to allow for the ultimate flavor experience, as fat-soluble flavor compounds flow more freely when tasted at room temperature.

And we want to know—what would you include on your cheese plate?

About the author: Stephanie Stiavetti is a writer and cookbook author in San Francisco. Stephanie's cookbook, Melt: the Art of Macaroni and Cheese, celebrates America's favorite dish by recreating it with small production, specialty cheeses. Her food blog, The Culinary Life, is a repository for all things comfort food related, from savory dinners to transcendental desserts.


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