You know that scene in elf when will ferrel is listing off the main food groups of the elves? Candy, candy canes, candy corn and syrup. For me.. It would have to be cheese of all kind. My great grandma always said given the choice of chocolate or cheese she would always choose cheese and I have to agree with her.
A few nights ago joe and i had his parents over for dinner to say thank you for watching otto while we were gone on vacation back in June. I know, i know it was back in June but honestly, that is how summer goes sometimes. What feels like a week was actually months and so on and so forth. While we waited for the ribs to cook we needed something to snack on and my favorite appetizer (or dinner for that matter) is a big beautiful cheese plate.
Why is a cheese plate the perfect summer appetizer? for starters you don’t have to turn on your oven (unless you need to toast some bread) and second you can have it preassembled before your guests arrive so you are not spending your entire night cooking while your guests wait.
I have a handful of suggestions to create a beautiful photo worthy cheese plate and I say suggestions because there are no rules here. Variety is the key to success in a visually appealing board as well as one that will please all guests tastes and preferences.
I went to the new Gordon Food Service store on Michigan St. near downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan for all my supplies (excluding the honey and jam because those came from my own farm). I was totally blown away! I have driven past the new location a few times because it is right by one of my favorite coffee shops as well as the children’s hospital in downtown. You’ll see it when you drive by, it has big glass windows and a large red G on the outside. Don’t be intimidated by downtown parking there is a lot for guests behind the store.
When I was a kid working in my grandmas restaurant she was able to get a bunch of supplies from her local GFS including giant shakers of pepper. I have one in my own kitchen now and it reminds me of her restaurant days. For those who know or have visited a Gordon Food Service store they have many great items sold in large quantities and do not require a membership to purchase or shop. Their new store has all the great items that you are used to but has now expanded to include options for a last minute dinner or in my case, a cheese board for four.
I had to put my blinders on a bit and stay focused because there were so many other fun options like the guacamole bar and freshly squeezed juice area but I kept myself in line. I picked up items from every category that I needed for my cheese plate. My favorite thing about the cheese are was that the cheese was cut into all different sizes. I could get smaller quantities to create more of a variety on my board. If you would like to see my tour of the new store you can view it in my IG story highlights.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the options so I stick to a few general categories to create the perfect board.
1.) Cheese – get a variety of textures, milk and shapes. I try to stick to a minimum of three (something funky, something classic and something balanced). If I am doing more than three then I will look for a soft, semi-soft, hard and semi hard cheese.
2.) Meats – I prefer cheese over meats but it’s always good to get a little added protein. I always like to add a proscuitto because it folds beautifully on the plate as well as tastes good. Salami is another traditional favorite and a mild version not too overpowering on the board.
3.) Fruits – get a mix of fresh and dried fruits. The fresh fruits will add rich color and texture to the board while a lot of the dried fruits pair perfectly with some of your funkier cheeses. I love a dried apricot with a sprinkle of blue cheese. Dried fruits fill in the blank spaces visually of the board as well.
4.) Vegetables – I like to use things from the olive bar to fill in the board. for this board I used sweetie drop peppers, peppadew peppers, marinated artichokes and roasted garlic. I also used a couple handfuls of snow peas and cherry tomatoes to crunch on as a nice break from the dairy.
5.) Nuts and Chocolate – This board was heavy on the savory side so I opted out of adding chocolate but sometimes I’ll add a few bittersweet slices of chocolate or chocolate covered nuts for when you are nearing the end of the board. For this plate I sprinkled in a few marcona almonds for added crunch.
6.) Condiments – Jams, jellys, conserves and honey are the perfect companion for cheeses. A bit of honey on top of brie is one of my favorite pairings of all time. For this plate I used my homemade strawberry rose jam and honey from my 2018 beehive.
7.) Vessels – I call crackers, breads and the like vessels because for me they serve one purpose.. holding the cheese and toppings together so it reaches my mouth. Again, it’s all about variety. Crackers, parmesan crisps and sometimes a sliced baguette work great. I also like to include veggies like snow peas in case I have some carb conscious friends.
8.) filler- every flower bouquet has lush greens to fill in the gaps I like to include bundles of sage or rosemary to give my plates a lush look while also being food safe. Another fun option is a plant called nasturtium which has a peppery taste but this round I used some of the sage growing in my garden.
Notes on assembling your cheese plate. Find a tray, dish or platter large enough to let all of your collections breath. Obviously the size will depend on how many different varieties you’ve chosen to incorporate. I like to move the jam, jelly, honey and anything that is liquid based (even peppers) into small jars. I’m a big fan of the short ball jars or the tiny weck jars without the lids. I found these tiny spoons at world market which make spreading the toppings simple and keeps everything from mixing flavors.
- Place your fillers (sage, etc) in varying points of the board.
- Place your jars around the platter.
- Lay your sliced or crumbled cheese around the jars but not all the way around, pick a corner.
- Fold the meats and place near the jars on the other side of the jars opposite the cheese.
- Take the larger of the fruits and veggies and place into groupings on the board. Fill in the smaller gaps with the berries, dried fruits and nuts etc.
- Fill in the remaining empty spaces with crackers, breads etc.
- Give the platter a tiny shake side to side to get things to fall naturally and fill in the visible spots of the platter.
- Take a great pic of your work of art for Instagram and enjoy!
- This post is sponsored by Gordon Food Service Store. All thoughts and opinions are my own.