Whether served as an elegant appetizer, a palate cleansing course between courses, an impressive tray at a holiday party, or as a sophisticated dessert the cheese plate is always a welcome sight at the table. While there is no rule book on how to put together a cheese plate this post should help give you a bit of guidance on how to best prepare an interesting and flavorful selection of cheeses for your next social event.
1. Select your cheeses.
Italy has 309 different DOP cheeses (Denomination of Origin Protected), so there are so many possibilities when it comes to creating the perfect Italian cheese board. Any cheese plate should have some nice diversity to it in style, selection, appearance, and flavor. There are any number of ways you can go about this. Some prefer to sample different types of cheese by offering a blue, a hard cheese, and a soft cheese. On the other side of that coin you could offer three cheeses of the same type (i.e. three semi-soft). It allows your guests to try a wide array of cheeses with different tastes and textural properties.
A very nice option is you want your cheese plate to be a representation of the 4 most important milks that are behind all excellent cheeses:
Cow's Milk- You should have at least one cow's milk cheese on your plate. There are many aged in different conditions (it is the maturation of the cows milk that makes the varieties most interesting, whether it's matured under ash, grape leaves, etc.) Of course, the king of all cow's milk is Parmigano-Reggiano, which undergoes a special maturation of up to 36 months. Serving it in chunks.
Water Buffalo Milk- The most common type of water buffalo milk cheese is Mozzarella di Bufala, which has a firmer texture than cow's milk mozzarella and is tangy in flavor.
Sheep's Milk- The ultimate sheep's milk is pecorino (usually aged 1 month to 2 months, there are many different varieties with different grades of toughness including Romano, Fiore Sardo, Pecorino di Pienza etc).
Goat's Milk- There are many different types of goat cheese, from fresh to aged (which are more pungent). You can finish your plate with a Tre Latti, or three milk cheese from Piemonte, a bite of Taleggio from Lombardia and soft or hard Gorgonzola, the blue cheese of Italy.
Generally, you want to purchase about 2oz. per person.
2. Serve your cheeses in the right order.
Just as you wouldn't drink a strong red wine before enjoying a glass of white wine, you don't want your guests eating the cheeses in the wrong order that would compromise the taste of the cheeses. You want your plate to start from the lightest to the strongest flavours (the way a meal would start with a crisp white wine, a rose, a red and then a dessert wine).
3. Add the perfect accompaniments.
If you want to create a classic Italian cheese plate, do as the Italians do: simply add some very good bread, and that's it!
However, if you want to do it in a more contemporary and tasty way, you can add some marmalade and jellies. The best are made with wine and Chef Libero Wine Jellies represent the perfect partner for your cheeses! You can also add dried fruits like apricots, nuts such as salted almonds, or in some cases fresh fruit, but only crisp apples or pears, and your friends will talk about your cheese board for months!