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
Gruyere
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!

6 comments:

  1. kaseri, i must say: your platter is simply breathtaking and most certainly made me go “ooh”. i’m wondering how your midwestern guests took to the cheeses… was there a crowd favorite? did they polish off the platter or did they experience fromage-fatigue? do you think any of them will take these fromage-tasting practices back with them to the midwest? if so, there may be hope for this nation after all!

    and i’m of course intrigued by the sagey cheese… an intrigue that is quickly developing into a full-fledged obsession. i am now dedicated to the sole task of finding this green cheese and tasting it.

    thanks for the post and welcome aboard!

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  2. Thanks, chedda gabler!
    The relatives ate all the cheese but avoided the sage varietal, which meant more for me! One encouraging sign for our future is they were intrigued by the gruyere. If you've never had it, it's a type of swiss that is great for cooking - I use it in stuffed mushrooms and my mom does this great dish of a puffed pastry stuffed with crushed pear and gruyere - yum!

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  3. I haven't yet served the 'cheese platter' myself, but this is a good motivator Kaseri, thank you.

    I've also tried Sage once, at Whole Foods in Arlington. It is an interesting cheese that demands an acquired taste. It's taste distinct if I remember and I did not like it immediately on the palate. I suppose its reward when it sits in your mouth for a while. I think it should be used to augment a serving of a number of other distinct cheeses, because there is no real fear of taste-overlap.

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  4. the green cheese looks awesome! now I'm hungry.

    Love cheese: had goat cheese with figs a few days ago (check out my blog)

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  5. Definitely a nice looking platter, kaseri!
    Though I would definitely caution you not to assume that ALL midwesterners are culinary lite-weights... The green cheese you served looked to me like a sage-derby, something my wife and I enjoy regularly! (Yes, in the midwest)
    For christmas time get-togethers we will pair it with a port-soaked cheddar which has a great marbled-red color, for a festive looking plate.

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