The Cheese Plate

Tuesday, 2 October 2012 | Tags: ,

As cheese lovers, not a day goes by that we don't both have a nibble of this flavourful treat. And dinner parties are just the excuse to indulge in some of the over 500 varieties available. Here's what we found out about the basics of putting together a great cheese plate.

The Basics

  • About 500 varieties of cheese are recognized by the International Dairy Federation, and they are grouped into categories according to characteristics like age, texture, method of making, fat content, moisture content (firmness), milk type, country/region of origin, rinds, molds, and more.
  • A cheese plate can be a starter or appetizer during a multi-course meal, or served as a nibbler for cocktail hour or party. It can also be offered as a course near the end of a meal, as the French often do.
  • A before-dinner cheese plate should have lighter, milder cheeses so as not to overwhelm the taste buds.

  • An after-dinner plate can have stronger cheese. Be sure to pair with a good dessert wine.

  • A breakfast cheese plate should have light, coffee-friendly cheeses, which means avoid strong flavours and steer clear of blue cheeses.

  • A late evening cheese plate should include easily-digestible cheeses like sheep and goat’s milk rather than cow’s milk.

  • A party plate will sit out for longer than the above, so choose familiar cheeses (cheddar, parmesan, brie, etc.). Consider that people will be standing and likely without cutlery or plates, so stick to cheeses that aren’t too messy. Avoid crumbly or gooey options.

How to Choose Your Cheeses

With the wide variety of cheeses available, it can be hard to decide what to serve. Here are some basic guidelines:

  • Choose a theme to narrow down your choices, like country (French, German, etc.), milk type, texture, producer, cheese type.

  • Or, go for variety and choose a typical cheese from each country, or a visual display that will be interesting to the eyes as well as the taste buds.

  • If you’re stuck, go to a specialty cheese store or deli counter for advice, and also ask about wine pairings. Cheese lovers love talking about cheese!

  • How much to buy: generally, for a plate including 5-10 cheeses, serve about 1-1.5 ounces per person. For a larger line-up, serve about 3/4 of an ounce per person.

To be sure you’ve got a hit on your hands, stick to the golden rules from our experts at Benton Brothers Fine Cheeses:

  • The best cheeses come from unpasteurized milk

  • Cheese made in the traditional, artisan fashion tends to be more flavourful and unique

  • No two cheeses are identical, even those made by the same maker. They vary from day to day, week to week, month to month, and season to season. The process of cheese-making can be affected by the weather as can the raw ingredients – milk!

Shopping Tips

  • Avoid anything that comes vacuum-packed in thick plastic (done to prolong shelf life) as cheese needs to breathe.

  • If purchasing from a regular grocery store, stick with more accessible and popular cheeses with high turnover for freshness. Bigger stores often cut and wrap everything ahead so be careful it hasn’t been sitting for too long.

  • If possible, buy cheese from a trusted cheesemonger that has frequent turnover. 


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  • KikiMa17

    Great tips! Thanks!! Cheese IS my favourite, always!