Sande Friedman, cheese expert at Di Bruno Bros. In Philadelphia, gives the lowdown on making a cheese plate when you don’t know your curds from whey.
Go for at least three different kinds—more than five and they get “lost.” Make them drastically different: a soft, Brie-style cheese, a hard alpine style like Gruyere or cheddar, and a crumbly blue are a nice mix. Aim for one-half to one ounce of each type of cheese per guest.
If you really want to impress, ask for “holiday release” cheeses. They tend to be superrich because they’re made from the milk of cows that have been grazing on summer grass. One, called Vacherin Mont d’Or, comes in a round tree-bark container that’s perfect for entertaining. Just slice off the top of the cheese wheel to expose the almost fondue-style cheese inside, and dip away.
Hold the crackers. “People get so carbed down this time of year,” she says. Pickled vegetables like carrots, green beans, or cornichons have a hit of acid that cuts through dairy perfectly. Friedman likes Brooklyn Brine Co.’s barrel-cured Garlic Dill pickles ($14, amazon.com); Crisp & Co. Sweet Ginger Pickles ($11, dibruno.com); and Epic Pickles’ fennel carrot, asparagus, or okra ($14, amazon.com). You can also use dried fruit as a “cracker” and stretch your cheese by setting out mustards, jams, or honey to try with cheeses—each pairing makes for a whole new flavor sensation, from sour to fruity.
Never serve it cold. Cheese is a living, breathing creature. Let it warm up a little. If it’s beading a bit, that’s just butterfat rising to the surface. Most cheeses can be left at room temperature for up to two hours.