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Satisfy Your Guests With This Cheese Tray

Want some tips for making a crowd-pleasing cheese plate this holiday season?

As a researcher with the National Dairy Council and someone who grew up on a dairy farm, I spend a lot of time thinking about cheese and am often asked about my favorite cheese for a cheese plate. Here are a few suggestions for making a spread that appeals to foodies, picky eaters and everyone in between.

First, get the tray for the cheese—it could be a cutting board, chalk board, slate tile or your favorite holiday tray. Whatever it is, remember that the cheese is the star. There are not any “rules” to arranging the tray, but I like to take use of any color differences to bring interest to the tray. When cutting up the cheese, I usually cut it into bite size cubes or pieces, but if it is a softer or creamy cheese leave a spoon or small cheese knife for guests to serve themselves.

A key to selecting your cheese is to start with some cheese that is approachable for everyone. I like a mild cheddar for its buttery notes, or a smoked Gouda with its smoked, sweet flavor. Other great options are Butterkase, Monterey Jack or a Havarti.

cheese

Smoked Gouda

Next, grab something a little more adventurous for the foodies in the crowd—like a washed-rind cheese that’s stinky but delicious. Sure, it could stink up your kitchen a bit, but that’s what makes it a conversation-starter. Another option is a blue cheese, with its big, bold flavor and contrasting smooth, light texture. If stinky cheese isn’t your thing, an extra aged or cloth-bound cheddar are also great alternatives. Have some fun—this is a chance to share some of your favorite cheese with your friends and family.

Finally, for those in the crowd who want to try the newest and trendiest, here are a couple to look into. I’ve really been into Alpine-style cheeses recently because flavors can change based on what the cows have eaten or how they’re cured in the end. You can always count on them being sweet and nutty and having a complex finish.

cheese 

Blue cheese

The reason I’ve been enjoying more Alpine-style cheese is there are so many great new options being made locally here in the U.S Alpine-style cheese refers to cheeses like Gruyere, Emmental and Fontina that are made in Switzerland, France and Italy. U.S. cheesemakers have been making great cheese following some of the same traditions but can’t call them by the European names. Ask for cheese at your local grocery or cheese store that is an alpine-style cheese from the U.S. There is a wide variety of flavor and texture so enjoy trying a few different ones to find your favorite.

Keep it simple when finishing your cheese tray this holiday season. If I add anything other than the cheese, its usually some simple crackers or bread, dried fruits and nuts.

Want more cheese tips for the holidays? Check us out next month for a guide to cheese gifts.

By Chad Galer