Perfect Party Plate

Holidays have arrived! It’s that time of year again for cheer and cheese. So gather your guests around the cheese plate for a toast to another year.

A cheese plate is a holiday must-have, not only because of its simplicity, but it is a crowd-pleaser. One of the most commonly asked questions to a cheesemonger is what kinds of cheeses to pair on a plate. Cheeses should be served singly, in threes, or fives, but typically no more (unless you are doing a tasting). So when selecting cheese varieties for a cheese plate, I like to think of a theme or a central cheese that I want to feature and select the other cheeses and accompaniments based on that particular flavor. Approach a cheese plate as you would any meal. It’s about striking the right balance in aromas, flavors, and textures.

Variety

Champignon Mushroom, Rougette, and Cambozola Black Label are each distinctive cheeses that are wonderful anchors to begin putting together a cheese plate. Here are a few options.

For Champignon Mushroom, try an earth-themed plate pairing it alongside an herb- or ash-covered goat cheese and a hay-covered Pecorino.

Rougette, with it’s washed rind and distinctive hue, tends to steal the show of other cheeses, so you can opt to serve it singly or alongside charcuterie or pâté. However, if pairing with other cheeses, select mild flavored fresh cheeses and a nutty Comté.

Cambozola Black Label is an excellent blue to add to any cheese plate as it is not as strong as other blues. Try serving this cheese alongside a Boucheron and an aged Gouda. I also like serving this one with other blues as a dessert plate to open up guests to the beauty of blues.

Embellishments

Fruits, nuts, honeys, olives, and fresh fruits and herbs are excellent garnishes to have on hand around the cheese plate. Not only do they add color, but they also add wonderful textures and compliments to the cheeses. Breads and crackers should also be carefully selected. Remember, these are not just vehicles for the cheese, but can alter or enhance a cheese’s flavor.

Champignon mushroom, flecked with bits of mushrooms, has a mild, earthy and grassy flavor that lends itself to both savory or sweet accompaniments. For a sweet version, serve it on a wedge of date almond cake. Here it is served on a crusty baguette topped with bacon brittle. (The combination tastes like a mini-quiche lorraine minus the egg. Recipe for bacon brittle below.) Served this one with Champagne before a meal as a perfect way to whet the appetite.

(For Bacon Brittle: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a backing sheet with parchment. In a bowl mix 1 cup of dark brown sugar with 3 tablespoons of water. If the mixture is still too sandy, add a little more water, but don’t let it get soupy. Dip thick cut strips of bacon into the brown sugar paste. and put on the parchment. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Remove and let cool. Cut into inch pieces.)

Rougette has a distinctive reddish-orange rind with a strong aroma and flavor, so pair it with mild-flavored accompaniments, such as nuts and mildly sweet fruits (but avoid pairing with berries). The buttery paste needs something more than a water cracker, so try a baguette or, as shown here, pair it with a wedge of pear and walnut for a touch of sweetness and crunch.

Cambozola Black Label can be versatile in its pairings. Fruit and walnut breads are texture-rich vehicles for this decadent cheese. For a buffet-style plate try pairing it with a  slice of apple crisp bacon, or both. Here, honeycomb offers a texture and sweetness that brings forward both the grassy and blue flavors. The combination is luscious and decadent, and a perfect tasting note to end the year.