Drink Magazine

Making a Great (And Affordable!) Cheese Plate

By Karenvanzant @KarenVanZant
I recently had a friend ask me how to put together a cheese plate for a party for a small dinner party she was throwing. She was nervous about it, because she's not a big cheese-eater and doesn't know much about it. She also didn't want to spend a lot, because dinner itself was going to be on the expensive side. Entertaining guests in your home can sometimes be daunting, especially when you're on a budget. Cheese can seem pricey, but you really don't have to spend a lot of money in order to make a great cheese plate. And, on the plus side, it will not only look sophisticated, it will offer a lot of variety for your guests. Any specialty cheese shop can help you in choosing cheeses, but here are a few good pointers to keep in mind:

- Most cheese shops will let you sample any and all cheeses that you want to try, so if you're not sure if it's something you'll like, ask for a sample.

- Cheese shops should be able to cut whatever size you'd like of each cheese. You'll find that any good cheese shop will have huge wheels on display, along with some pieces already cut, wrapped, and priced. However if you don't want that piece of pre-cut cheese that's $9, ask them to cut a smaller piece for you.

- Use your cheesemonger! They are there to assist you, so ask away! Any cheesemonger should be happy to get a sample for you, answer any questions you may have, or cut a specific size piece of cheese for your cheese plate. If you're unsure what kinds of cheese to get, ask for their opinion. Also let them know you're shopping on a budget, and find out what sales they may have going on at the time.

- If you decide on four cheeses that equal out to about $5 each, you're going to get four decent size pieces of cheese- and if you're entertaining around 4-6 people, that's all you're going to need.

-Be sure to mix up the textures and flavors- there are so many options now! Grab a soft, creamy brie, and perhaps a harder, aged, carmalized gouda. There are also plenty of flavored cheeses, such as Cotswold, which is a whole milk cheese with green onions through it, or a white stilton with blueberries, which if drizzled with honey it could be dessert in itself! There are many possibilities when it comes to cheese!

- Remember to grab crackers for the softer cheeses, or you could also use fruit- apples and pears go well with cheese, especially brie or blues. If you have money left over in your cheese plate budget, you could also splurge with other items, such as some salty olives, dried cranberries, or marcona almonds. If you go with olives, a couple of my favorites include Castelvetrano olives, which are Sicilian and very buttery and meaty, (although they do have a pit, so be careful!) and I also love salty Greek Kalamata olives.

- To ensure freshness of your cheese, store it in the bottom drawer of your refridgerator, tightly wrapped with plastic wrap. Let it sit at room temperature for about thirty minutes before you serve it to your guests; cheese is always best at room temperature!

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