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It’s easy being cheesy

October 25, 2016 // by Kathy Collins

Cheese plays an important supporting role in any holiday gathering, but you don't have settle for a sad, store-bought tray.

I've prepared thousands of cheese displays both at home and for NOLA MOCA. Humble or elaborate, a good cheese display is always a hit.

Cheese Tray Horizontal
NOLA MOCA can create a custom cheese display for your event. Image courtesy of Kathy Collins.

Cheese displays can take many shapes and directions. The first question to ask is, “How much cheese do I need?” If you're serving other food, you will do well with one to one-and-a-half ounces per person. (For a quick cocktail hour before dinner, you can serve a little less.) So for one hundred guests, plan on roughly eight pounds of cheese. But if you are planning a party for one hundred people, just call NOLA MOCA and let us take care of all the details for you! You can get a preview of what we can do at the Holiday Cocktail Tasting on November 10.

Next you must ask, “What kinds of cheese should I choose and how many?” I like to select a balance of cheeses with a minimum of five: a soft cheese, a hard cheese, a blue cheese, a cheese with something added (Drunken GoatCahill's Plain Porter, Derby sage, chipotle cheddar, cranberry Wensleydale, etc.), and something spreadable like pimento cheese or Boursin.

You can get as elaborate or as simple as you want. Cubes of cheddar and Swiss? If that's what you like, but really? All stinky cheeses? Why not? All French cheeses? Sure. Cheeses from different animals: goats, cows, and sheep? Yes. Cheeses from artisan cheesemakers that lovingly caress them by the light of the full moon and rub them with fair trade coffee grounds? Right on. It's your cheese display, so have fun with it.

Cheese Tray Vertical
Image courtesy of Kathy Collins.

Next, “How should I display the cheese?” Stack platters for some height and interest. Use sturdy boxes, cases of beer, large cans, or anything that can be wrapped with table linens and create a mountain range of surfaces to perch your platters. Or arrange everything on a large marble slab or thick wooden cutting board. I've used mirrors and glass, as well. Just make sure the surface is food safe, clean, and smooth. A rustic piece of wood from that tree you had to chop after Hurricane Matthew might sound cool and have a good back story, but you don't want your guests to pluck splinters or sap from between their teeth.

For portioning, some cheeses can be left whole with a small cheese knife stuck in them for guests to scoop or slice their preferred portion. A small wedge of blue cheese or brie is good served this way. Semisoft or hard cheeses should be sliced or carved into bite-size pieces. Spreadable cheeses are best served in a small crock with a spoon or cheese spreader.

Don't forget the accompaniments. At the very minimum, add fruit, some nuts, and a crunchy bread or crackers to round out the cheese. Grapes and strawberries are favorites. Sliced apples are great but can brown quickly, so slice them at the last minute. You're not limited to fresh fruit: dried cranberries and dates are popular. NOLA MOCA always has smoked almonds and spiced, candied pecans on hand, so we use these a lot. Marcona almonds are wonderful on a cheese plate. The grocery store stocks an assortment of flavored nuts. Crackers and toast points are the most prominent on cheese displays, but I've used everything from baguettes to bagels, and they are all good. Other delicious extras can elevate your display: homemade jams, fresh herbs, honey or honeycomb, marinated olives, and pickled vegetables are all appropriate.

Have fun with it! You might find something on the grocery store shelf or in the back of your refrigerator that I didn't mention here and think, “Hey, this will be good on my cheese display!” Get creative and express yourself through cheese. It's a thing. 

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