Any good gathering requires at least a few fun snacks. And whether it’s a cocktail party or a sit-down dinner, you can’t go wrong with an elegant, thoughtfully prepared cheese platter. With these six tips from the test kitchen plus a list of all our favorite cheeses below, your board will be sure to impress.
1. Give your cheese a warm-up
Cheese is best at room temperature, so we recommend removing your selections from the refrigerator 1 to 2 hours before serving. To make sure they don’t dry out, take care to keep them wrapped until it’s party time.
If you’ve left the cheese in the refrigerator until the last minute, though, don’t worry. We found that you can soften creamy cheeses like Brie and Camembert by giving them a warm water bath. Simply place the cheese in a zipper-lock bag in 80-degree water and let it sit. In our experiment, this helped the cheese reach room temperature in less than an hour.
2. Add some variety
For a more interesting platter, opt for a variety of cheeses. Try different flavors and textures, as well as different types of cheese, such as those made from goat’s milk, cow’s milk, or sheep’s milk. Don’t forget to create little labels that will let your guests know what they’re eating.
3. Crack the cracker code
You might be tempted to serve fancy, bold-flavored crackers and breads on your cheese platter, but remember, the cheese is the star of the show. Opt for mild-tasting bread and crackers that don’t overshadow the flavor the cheeses.
4. Go beyond cheese
To really impress with your cheese platter, you’ll want to include some sweet and savory accompaniments. Our ideal presentation includes fresh and dried fruits, chutneys, jams, and honey. We also like to add nuts and crisp apples, which provide a nice textural contrast to soft cheeses.
5. Make sure there’s enough to go around
What good is a great cheese board if there isn’t enough for everyone to enjoy? We suggest having 2 to 3 ounces of cheese per person for your party.
6. Store leftovers like a pro
In our experience, a flavorful, elegant cheese board usually doesn’t last long, but if you do have leftovers, you’ll want to store them properly so they’ll keep in the refrigerator until your next party. When it comes to cheese, this is easier said than done. Cheese releases moisture as it sits, and if this moisture evaporates too quickly, the cheese can dry out; if the moisture remains trapped, though, you’re likely to end up with mold. Specialty cheese storage wraps solve this problem, but if you don’t have any on hand, you can use a combination of waxed or parchment paper and aluminum foil. Start by tightly wrapping the cheese in the paper, which will help wick away moisture. Then follow with a loose wrapping of foil, which will trap just enough moisture to prevent the cheese from drying out. In our tests, brie and cheddar stored this way still tasted fresh more than a month later, while super-perishable goat cheese kept for about a week.
And for even longer storage, did you know you can freeze cheese? In the test kitchen, we did an experiment to see how a variety of cheeses (extra-sharp cheddar, Brie, fresh goat cheese, and Pecorino Romano) would fare when frozen. We wrapped each piece tightly in plastic wrap and placed them in a zipper-lock bag. We left them in the freezer for six weeks and then let them defrost overnight in the fridge (a 2½-hour rest on the counter also worked). To our surprise, the frozen samples were nearly identical to their never-frozen counterparts.