My daughter and her friends have just graduated from college, and are starting to think about “real life” stuff — the big stuff like jobs, apartments, and (I hope!) savings.
But the little stuff too – things that were, for the most part, taken for granted while living at home (how DOES that food get into the house anyway?), and not much of a concern during those four care-free college years (chips and salsa for dinner, again.)
And it’s had me thinking about my own “early adult” years: how I had to figure out how much food to buy each week, how to prep a meal in advance so that I could get a jump on cooking after a full day of work, and what “serving size” on the side of the box really meant.
I also learned during that time how to entertain – simply at first, and more adventurously as my skill level (and confidence) grew. But no matter what, there was always – and is always – a cheese plate. What I love most about this party staple is that you need no special culinary skills, it is infinitely adaptable, and is always a crowd-pleaser.
The trick, I’ve learned, is to have the right balance of flavors, colors and textures – both in the choice of cheese as well as the accompaniments. I’ve compiled a checklist of sorts so that you can easily choose a few items from each category, to ensure a “perfect plate” for your next gathering!
For a small gathering (four to eight guests) plan on three cheeses, and make sure to include a variety of tastes and textures (for example, one smooth cheese, one soft, and one “semi-hard” or hard). If your and your guests are more adventurous you can add a “pungent” selection – like a blue cheese – to the mix. Be sure to let the cheeses come to room temperature prior to serving, and put out the appropriate knives for cutting and spreading. Here are a few of my favorites:
Smooth: Burrata, Goat cheese, Mozzarella
Soft: Brie, Camembert
Semi-hard/Hard: Gruyere, Manchego, Parmesan, Aged Cheddar
As with your cheeses, you’ll want crackers and breads in a variety of tastes and textures. Put out an assortment of bread sticks, crackers, and slices of crusty French bread.
While you can certainly stop at cheese and crackers, it’s nice to have some sweet options to accompany:
Fruits: Both dried (figs, cherries, apricots) and fresh (apple and pear slices, grapes)
Meats: Salami, prosciutto
Condiments: Preserves, honey, chutney, mustard, caponata
And nuts and olives are nice, too.
Best of all, the array of colors, shapes and textures basically arrange themselves for a beautiful presentation. And there you have it! Everyone loves cheese and crackers, and this handy check-list will guarantee a wow-worthy platter every time!