When my best friend turned 30, I got her a set of these West Elm cheese knives with this slate cheese board. Unbeknownst to me, she had already gotten me a huge package of fromage varieties from New York’s famous Murray’s Cheese for my own 30th a few weeks later. I realized that this cheese plate thing is like an entryway to adulthood.
Maybe it’s because—and I speak for myself and many of my 30-something friends—we prefer quiet nights in versus ragers, dinner parties versus bottle service. And when we entertain, we want to entertain at our best, and a sophisticated cheese platter is at the top of the list.
So I turned to the beautiful new Little Italy fromagerie The Cheese Store of San Diego for some advice on how to create a chic, design-minded spread. Together we created two options to suit every cheese lover: one classic platter, one adventurous platter. Read ahead for helpful serving and pairing tips from owners Aaron, Marci, and the whole Cheese Store gang, along with photos by my talented friend Chantal Pasag of Pasagraphy.
The Cheese Store hosts a lot of fun events, like cheese 101 workshops and the upcoming Baja-inspired event (above right, “Hola Little Italy”). It doesn’t hurt that the space is beautiful, and the shelves are also stocked with delicious foodie finds, like jam from L.A.’s Sqirl. And the infographic wall (below) is just asking to be Instagrammed.
The Classic Cheese Platter
Brunet (goat’s milk), Brebirousse D’Argental (ooey-gooey; from sheep’s milk), Manchego (hard sheep’s milk), Prima Donna (Gouda)…with Marcona almonds, dried fruit, honey, and fruit cake
I learned this super easy cheese marker tutorial from Little Blue Boo. Cut a used wine cork in half and make a 1/8-inch incision so you can slide a piece of cardstock in place.
The Adventurous Cheese Platter
Couronne de Touraine (goat cheese), Lou Bren (sheep’s milk), Red Rock (cheddar), and Bellamy Blue (blue cheese)…with olives, lemon jam, dried fruit, bourbon maple syrup, and carrot crackers
Tips + Tricks from The Cheese Store of San Diego
How many cheese to start with? Three to four varieties is optimal, but you could stretch that to 5.
How about a mix of textures and flavors? A variety of textures is key, from soft and semi-firm to hard and blue. It’s a good idea to also select different milk types, like sheep, cow, goat, or even water buffalo, so you can really get the flavors out of each cheese. Mixed milk cheeses, like Pilota from France, are a great option so you can kill two birds with one stone. In the end, it’s all about what tastes good to you.
Pairings! What works? Sparkling water, plain crackers, or baguette will help clean the palate. Then:
– Fresh fruits, like apricots, go well with light, fresh, unripened cheeses like ricotta or crescenza.
– Dried fruit pairs well with blue cheese, washed rind cheese, an aged Gouda, and triple cream cheeses.
– Jams are a fantastic accoutrement. Try fig and strawberry jam with goat cheese.
– Honey with blue cheese is a sure hit, as well as with triple creams, Pecorinos, or Parmesan.
– Cured meat (think salty prosciutto or speck) go well with Parmesan or mozzarella.
– A current favorite pairing: a fleur de sel caramel with goat milk Gouda, as well as Meyer lemon ginger jam with La Tur, a soft mixed milk cheese from Italy. It’s like a cheese Danish in one bite.
And for the drinks? Just like with food you want to pair beverages with cheese that are either contrasting or similar in flavor.
– Maybe a bold red wine with a rich Alpine style cheese like Challerhocker.
– A light blonde beer or French rosé paired with a light, soft-ripened goat cheese or fresh cheese is perfect for summer.
– A malty beer with an aged Gouda.
– A Porter with a triple cream (think of it like a coffee and cream combination).
– A fruity cider with an aged cheddar is always a good match.
– A bitter IPA with a cheddar or soft-ripened goat cheese works well, too.
– Sparkling wine goes well with just about any cheese.
Now that the platter is in place, how should we serve it?
– Take cheese out of the refrigerator one hour before serving, unless it’s a particularly oozy cheese, then take it out 30 minutes before.
– No need to separate strong-smelling cheese from milder ones, but it’s always a good idea to display them on a cheese board from mild to strong. This way a strong blue doesn’t ruin your palate for a soft fresh goat cheese.
– Allow 2 ounces of cheese per person, or if you have other appetizers, then 1.5 ounces per person. You may need less of a stronger cheese, like blue cheese, but a triple cream is always the first to go! Always up that one.