09 September 2007

The perfect cheese platter

It's Friday night, 6:30 p.m. and you need something quick and fabulous for some unexpected guests. A cheese platter and some pepper crackers or french bread is often the right answer, but what makes it just right?

One of the things I like most about cheese is that there is something for everyone, and your cheese platter should be crafted with this in mind. I'm a fan of color variety, with just enough unusual cheese choices to make your guests go "Ooh" but also a balance of traditional favorites.

Here's what you need:

A long platter
Four or five types of cheeses, refrigerated for easier slicing
(If you know your guests are coming ahead of time, do the slicing in the morning and all you'll need to do is assemble before serving)
One box of table crackers (pepper and poppy seed are my favorite, but anything from Triscuits to $25 stone ground wheat crackers will do) or a baguette of french, sourdough, Ciabatta or olive bread

I presented this platter last week for my Midwestern and culinary cautious in-laws, aiming for cheese that wouldn't scare them too badly.

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From left to right, I included 10-16 slices, 1/4" thick and 2" long of:

New York Aged extra sharp cheddar
Sage (see below)
Pepper Jack
Smoked Gouda
Colby Jack

Had my guests been more adventurous, I would have included mustard gouda (preferably with red wax still on for some added color), garlic cheddar and some pungent blue cheese crumbles.

But I was very satisfied with myself because the Sage cheese was so delicious. Eastern Market in DC suffered from a major fire in April but is back in a temporary location with a vengeance. That morning I'd been perusing the fresh pasta when a woman slapped a slice of green cheese in my hand.

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Its color offended a few, but it was so tasty - with the creaminess of blue cheese and a texture like colby. Divine!