Let’s talk cheese platters. Remember when you were a kid, toddling around the dinner table while your parents indulged in extravagant looking plates filled with all kinds of weird and wonderful cheeses?
It always seemed like such a grown-up thing to do, swilling wine while working your way through an array of stinky cheeses and condiments.
But now that you’re the grown up, the prospect of putting together the perfect platter is daunting.
Memories of dense camembert, chicken liver paté and after dinner mints come flooding back – which is all well and good, but that was the 90s! What does a 21st century host need to do these days to turn heads with a cheese plate?
For those unsure about how to best tackle the platter, here are our top tips to make you a modern cheese platter guru – from where to buy your produce, to which crackers and wines you should choose to pair it with with….
There’s not much to hide behind when serving a platter, which is why it’s so important to source top quality ingredients. Luckily in Australia, there’s an abundance of premium quality produce at our fingertips – whether it be from high-end supermarkets, delicatessens or local farmers’ markets.
Check out our list of the top farmers’ markets around the country that serve up everything from your pantry staples, to gourmet and indulgent produce.
Crackers are the key to any platter, there’s no point having a bunch of delicious cheeses and condiments to choose from if you can’t build them on something.
And while crackers have traditionally been known as the vehicles for delivering your cheese, that doesn’t mean they can’t be just as exciting. The guys from Lively Run Goat Dairy say it’s important to have an assortment of crackers to accompany the variety of cheeses on the board.
“Certain crackers simply don’t pair well with certain cheeses,” they say.
“We recommend simple, buttery crackers, whole-wheat crackers, crackers with seeds, and herb flavoured crackers.
Whether served before, after or as an entire meal you can’t go wrong with a luxurious selection of local and international cheeses.
Amanda Menegazzo – a cheese expert from Dairy Australia – says to consider your guests’ tastes when choosing cheese, by offering a mixture that will comprise something for everyone, including soft, hard, mild and strong flavours.
“A fail safe selection is a classic vintage cheddar that everyone will like, plus a creamy brie and blue, or a washed rind for the more adventurous,” she said.
“Keep in mind cheeses of different sizes, shapes and colours will look best combined on one platter, than all the same.”
Lively Run Goat Diary recommends about 115 grams of cheese per adult.
Sasha Davis from Portland’s Food + Drink Scene says when choosing condiments for your platter, taste the cheese first.
“Think about what the flavour reminds you of, and what the texture is like, and let that guide your ideas,” she said.
“A hard, acidic cheese could use some tempering with a rich slice of salami. A soft, buttery cheese might welcome a dollop of a bright and fruity preserve.”
The most common complaint about blue cheese is the intensity of flavour that comes from the mould. Candied fruits, dried figs or a quince paste is a simple way to balance this intensity.
If you’d like to make your own fruit preserve try Donna Hay’s wild fig compote.
For after-dinner cheeses pair with sweet accompaniments such as jams, honey, dried fruit, or dark chocolate dipped oranges, and add a bunch of red grapes and fresh strawberries for a fresh component. (Link to CrackerUp ‘Dinner Party Hacks’ story).
Before you’re ready to plate up your oh-so tasty treats, remove the cheese from the refrigerator an hour before serving – cold mutes the flavour.
Set out a separate knife for each cheese too, you don’t want a mix of blue cheese with your brie. Soft cheese spreads well with a butter knife, aged cheese often requires a cheese plane and firm cheese might need a paring knife.
A novel way to add personality to your platter is to label each cheese and note down a few poetic adjectives describing its flavour – it also means you won’t need to recite the names all evening.
But Kristen from Iowa Girl Eats says not to stress about having the perfect-looking cheese platter.
“I think the most inviting ones have casually-arranged ingredients on a clean, wooden cutting board,” She writes.
“Separate items to fill in the cracks, and to make sure everyone can get a little bit of everything no matter where they’re standing around the board.”
As the Wine Enthusiast says “wine and cheese are two of life’s great culinary pleasures, and finding the perfect match can be a delicious endeavour” – so if you want to be a proper grown-up why not try matching your wine with your cheeses.
The wine-cheese pairing possibilities are endless, but to simplify the strategy, Clare Valley Riesling is a perfect pair with soft French cheese, Shiraz is great with vintage cheddar, and Chardonnay tastes great with goats’ cheese.