When building a cheese plate, creating a balanced, complementary spread is all about variety. Aim for a range of textures (runny, soft, semi-firm, hard), flavors (mild, stinky, creamy, and salty), milk types (sheep's milk, cow's milk, goat milk, or a blend), and colors, and look for condiments that enhance the flavors of the cheese—not overpower them. After spending an afternoon with our friends at Murray's Cheese tasting cheeses and accompaniments, we've curated four unique arrays with entertaining in mind, each plate with at least three cheeses and a unique condiment. Follow our lead, or mix and match to create your own ideal plate.
This selection of cheeses has it all: You’ve got the whole spectrum of textures, milk types, and flavors represented. Blu di Bufala (top left) is a decadent stinky cheese from an ancient recipe. A really top notch, salty hard cheese like Solo di Bruna Parmigiano Reggiano, aged for over 24 months to achieve the perfect nutty, caramelized crunch, is almost better for munching off a cheese plate than it is for grating. Vermont Butter and Cheese Company’s Cremont (left), a combination of goat and cow’s milk and cream, has a delicate bloomy rind and soft, luscious interior. Miel Asturiana Chestnut Honey is a dark, thick, luxurious accompaniment to any cheese, but don’t be surprised to catch your guests enjoying it alone, by the spoonful. Clockwise from top:
Blu di Bufala, _$27.99/lb at Murrayscheese.com_
Solo Di Brunda Parmigiano-Reggiano, _$22.99/lb at Murrayscheese.com_
Miel Asturiana Chestnut Honey, _$22.30 at Tienda.com_
Vermont Butter & Cheese Co. Cremont, _$10.99 each at Murrayscheese.com_
Familiar, but Different
This cheese plate is a crowd-pleaser–it plays on familiar flavors and types of cheese, but takes the complexity up a notch with interesting and unique elements. Monte Enebro (top left) may look like fresh chevre, but the rind on this Spanish goat cheese, composed of ash and mold, creates a flavor more comparable to a blue. As the cheese ages, the paste nearest the rind becomes runny and piquant with notes of bitter black walnut, while the interior remains more dense and mild. Tomme Vaudoise(bottom) is one of the youngest imported raw milk cheeses that you can get in the States–with a buttery, sweet flavor, it’s like the best brie you’ve ever had. And if you like Manchego, then you’ll love Ossau-Iraty Vielle (left)–this raw sheep’s milk cheese from the French Pyrenees has the same nutty, salty flavor people love in its Spanish cousin, but with a deep, complex caramelized flavor. It’s great with something tart and sweet, like membrillo (bottom right), but for a truly special and surprising accompaniment, try Harvest Song Walnut Preserves (center). During the curing process, the green walnuts take on a soft texture and develop flavors of allspice and cinnamon.
A Tasting of Cave-Aged Cheeses
It’s amazing what a little extra time and care can do to change a cheese’s flavor. Murray’s Cavemaster Reserve Hudson Flower (top left) begins life as a round of fresh, unaged sheep’s milk cheese, but after 4-6 weeks aging in a blend of rosemary, lemon thyme, marjoram, and hop flowers, this gem emerges from the cave with a beautiful green dappled rind and an herbal brightness that lifts the creaminess of the paste. A show-stopper on the plate and a Saveur.com staff favorite, Murray’s Cavemaster Reserve Little Big Apple (right) starts out as a buttery triple cream, but takes on a sweet, yeasty flavor after a few weeks wrapped in apple brandy-soaked apple leaves. Aged for 2-3 months, Blue Ledge Farm Middlebury Blue is crumbly and grassy cow’s milk cheese, with a pungent blue interior and mild, creamy paste closer to the rind. Noble Tonic 01, a barrel-aged maple cider, is delicious drizzled atop the creamy cheeses offered on this plate. Try pairing this plate with a dry hard cider to complement the earthy flavors.
Bold Pairings: Sweet, Savory, Spicy
For this cheese plate, we started with an adventurous accompaniment that’s perfect for the holidays: Virginia Chutney Company Spicy Plum Chutney. This complex flavor–spicy, garlicky, tart, and fruity–doesn’t play well with everything, but we found a range of great cheeses that are up to the challenge. Aiming for a punched-up version of the classic pairing of cream cheese and jelly, we tried several soft goat cheeses, two of which really stood out: Creamy Haystack Mountain Haystack Peak (top left), from the foothills of the Rockies in Colorado, has notes of mushrooms and damp earth, while fern-wrapped River’s Edge Siltcoos (bottom right) has a cleaner, more classic chevre flavor and chalkier texture–and both look stunning on the plate. For something that stands up to the chutney’s assertive bite with an equally bold counterpoint, we loved the supremely salty and pungent Colston Basset Stilton (top right), a melt-in-your-mouth butter bomb of savory flavor, and Twin Maple Farm Hudson Red (bottom left), a pungent, barn yardy washed rind cow’s milk cheese from Ghent, New York.