Around the World with All Things Cheese….

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A cheese plate – with minimum effort and a lot of wow factor – makes the perfect choice for any occasion. But the daunting task of coming up with cheese platter ideas when perhaps your knowledge is lacking shouldn’t be so foreboding.

With a few short pointers and a trip to your local cheesemonger, you can come across as a culinary expert to your friends and loved ones. You’ll learn how to master a region of cheese, or portray yourself as a world traveler with something as simple as a few cheeses.

When devising your strategy, tradition calls for a three-cheese plate containing a soft, semi-firm and firm cheese. Accompaniments, such as crackers, nuts, dried fruit, and meats, are traditional, though the combination is completely up to you.

The Italian

Everyone knows mozzarella. It’s a staple in Italian cuisine, and is enjoyed fine on its own or in delicious dishes like lasagna and eggplant parmesan. Burrata, however, is a twist on a classic. A ball, usually served in four or eight ounces, has an outer shell of solid mozzarella; but once broken into, the consistency is that of a poached egg – cream filled, with a soft center similar to a runny ricotta. This cheese is a delight to eat, and is on the milder side to please just about everyone.

The Semi-Firm – Gorgonzola Dolce

Admittedly, blue cheese does not appeal to everyone; however, Gorgonzola Dolce tends to be the exception. Creamy, but still fairly firm, it is called “dolce” because of the sweetness it has compared to other blue cheeses from this region. It’s also notably milder, without the crumbly dryness usually associated with blue cheeses.

The Firm – Parmigiano-Reggiano

Aged to the max, Parmigiano-Reggiano is packed with flavor. Salty, flaky and a little nutty, it stands apart from the other two cheeses without being overwhelming. Plus, the Italians call it “The King of Cheeses,” so you know it’s special.

Accompaniments to try: Salami, walnuts, fresh red grapes, rosemary/garlic crackers.

 

The French

The Soft – Camembert

Brie is the traditional soft cheese on a French plate, often overshadowing the creamy and delicious Camembert. With its bloomy white rind, this cheese spreads like butter at room temperature. The Camembert is traditionally buttery, creamy and earthy, pairing wonderfully with red wine.

The Semi-Firm – Cantal

Cantal comes two different ways – young, with a sweet complex flavor, or aged, with earthy and grassy notes. Whichever is more your style, go for it. Your cheesemonger should be able to tell you if the wheel you’re getting is young or aged. Since it’s fairly mild either way, it’s usually a crowd-pleaser.

The Firm – Comté

Nutty and salty, the Comté comes in perfect contrast with its softer counterparts. It is hard and aged, with a particularly meaty and almost smoky flavor. While it does pack a flavorful punch, it still ranks as a favorite in France. If you have a little left over after serving, you’ve got the makings of a fondue on your hands.

Accompaniments to try: Fresh bread, dried cherries, hazelnuts.

cheese platter ideas

Cheddar. Photo: HandmadePictures/Shutterstock.

The American

The Soft – Kunik

From Nettle Meadow Farms in New York, the Kunik resembles a cross between a brie and a camembert. It is a triple crème, meaning it contains more than 75% butterfat. This means that this cheese is crazy buttery, with hints of grassy and mineral flavors.

The Semi-Firm – Midnight Moon

When you think of gouda, I doubt you think of goat’s milk; but this goat’s milk gouda creates an amazingly creamy consistency when enjoyed. The flavors are nutty, like a traditional gouda, but with brown butter and caramel notes that make it stand out.

The Firm – Bleecher’s Flagship Reserve

Cheddar seems like a very American thing, so it would be remise to leave it off our American inspired plate. Flagship is a traditionally cloth-bound and open-air aged cheddar, which helps concentrate an earthy and rich flavor. The after taste is particularly interesting – rather than a sharp cheddar, the finish is particularly tangy and fruity, similar to pineapple.

Accompaniments to try: Whole grain crostini, toasted almonds, dried cranberries, fig spread.

cheese platter ideas

Cheese shop. Photo: kykykis/Shutterstock.

The World Traveler

Any mix of the above would work, but here is my suggested combination:

The Soft – Camembert

The Semi-Firm – Midnight Moon

The Firm – Parmigiano-Reggiano

Accompaniments to try: Whole grain bread, hazelnuts, fresh red grapes, Capocollo (sliced thin), stone ground mustard.

The cheese plate is a simple equation – put together delicious foods that go well together. And don’t worry about what your guests will necessarily like. Go with your gut, and your palate, and you’ll create a plate that delights and shows off the true world traveler that you are. Or, at least, the one you want to be.

Jessica Festa
Jessica Festa is the editor of the travel sites Jessie on a Journey (http://jessieonajourney.com) and Epicure & Culture (http://epicureandculture.com). Along with blogging at We Blog The World, her byline has appeared in publications like Huffington Post, Gadling, Fodor's, Travel + Escape, Matador, Viator, The Culture-Ist and many others. After getting her BA/MA in Communication from the State University of New York at Albany, she realized she wasn't really to stop backpacking and made travel her full time job. Some of her most memorable experiences include studying abroad in Sydney, teaching English in Thailand, doing orphanage work in Ghana, hiking her way through South America and traveling solo through Europe. She has a passion for backpacking, adventure, hiking, wine and getting off the beaten path.
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