Sunday, 7 August 2016

Cheese Please!

Cheese platters can be fun to put together, as it gives you a chance to get creative with colours, textures and flavours. For me there is nothing better to snack on than cheese, and any of the accompaniments that you choose to pair it with.

We were heading next door for a visit, and bringing along a cheese platter. I started to get carried away with all the options popping up in my mind...I really had to force myself to stop and choose a few cheeses and one or two things that would complement all, or most, of them. 

This made me stop and think about sharing some of my ideas, so here goes...

Firstly, I sliced a baguette into 1/4" thick slices and baked them at 350F until golden and crispy. That was my version of a plain cracker that could pair well with any cheese.

Next, I baked some pinenut, rosemary and Parmesan shortbread...

Cream together:

4 ounces soft butter
1 tablespoon sugar


1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon toasted pinenuts
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Add, and mix until just combined into a rough dough:

a handful of grated Parmesan
1/2 cup flour
6 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

Roll the dough into a log, and wrap in plastic wrap.

Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Slice the roll of dough into 1/4" thick slices, and place onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake at 350F until set and golden, about 14 - 15 minutes.

Cool completely.

I roasted a bulb of garlic, which pairs well with most is soft, sweet and easy to spread on crackers or bread.

The dried apricots in the cupboard were paired with the chardonnay in the fridge; I sliced the apricots and added enough wine to cover them, then simmered them until the wine was all absorbed and the apricots were soft.

The cheeses I had chosen to use were soft goat cheese, blue cheese, smoked white cheddar and an apricot Wensleydale.

The Wensleydale is soft enough to leave as a large piece, and the colour of the rind looks good on a platter, so I left the piece as it was.

Toasted pecan pieces and the Chardonnay soaked apricots are a good complement to the cheese, so place them nearby on the platter.

Soft goat cheese has a sharp flavour, but a nice creamy texture. It pairs well with the roasted garlic, so place them together on the platter.

Add some fresh herbs, such as thyme, and drizzle the cheese with honey.

Blue cheese tends to crumble when you cut it, so I like to crumble it into a mound on the platter. This also makes it easy to scoop onto a cracker.

I paired it with some thin slices of a fig, almond and cardamom roll...a nice contrast to the sharp cheese, as it is sweet and has the crunch of the almonds inside.

The smoked white cheddar was cubed for easy eating.

A bowl of toasted baguette and a plate of the pinenut, rosemary and Parmesan shortbread were served on the side. Don't forget to include some cheese knives...

  • A good rule of thumb is to keep softer, easier to cut or spread cheeses in larger pieces. Cheeses that are hard, difficult to cut into or spread should be cut or crumbled into smaller pieces. This makes it easy for guests to help themselves, and also gives the platter some visual interest.
  • Always try and include at least three or four cheeses...a hard cheese, a soft or spreadable cheese, a stronger tasting cheese and a mild cheese.
  • A lot of cheeses pair well with fruits, so if you can include some fresh fruit other than grapes, go ahead. Try peaches, pears, apples, apricots or figs...these all pair well with goat cheese, blue cheese and cheddars.
  • Dried fruits add texture, colour and sweetness...figs, cranberries, apricots, dates.
  • Nuts add contrast in texture, adding a crunch to the platter. Lightly toast them to bring out the flavour. 
  • Nuts can also be candied with brown sugar and Balsamic vinegar, as in the post Grilled chicken salad with mango, brie and candied pecans. 
  • Nuts can be toasted and chopped, and used to coat goat cheese. This cheese can be added cold, or baked until warmed through and then added to the platter.
  • Soft goat cheese can be rolled in chopped fresh herbs, black and white sesame seeds, crushed pink peppercorns or nuts.
  • Chutneys, compotes and jellies are nice to add to your cheese platter; the sweetness, spiciness and/or heat pair well with most cheeses, especially Brie, havarti, cheddar and blues.
  • Consider cutting harder cheese such as cheddar or Swiss into cubes or thin slices, and providing toothpicks for guests to pick the cubes up with.
  • There are a lot of specialty cheeses available today, some have beautiful additions such as fruits, herbs, port that add an extra bit of visual interest to a platter. Add one of these to everyday cheeses and your cheese platter will be that much more intersting.
  • Slice the top off a small round of brie or camembert and top it with nuts and honey; fresh herbs and roasted garlic; caramelised onions; red pepper jelly. Bake until the brie is warmed through and then add this to the platter.
  • Some cheeses to try include Port Salut, cambozola, edam, gouda, havarti, asiago.
  • Use a wooden cutting board, a slate tile, a cedar plank, a piece of live edge wood as an alternative to a platter for presenting the cheeses. Add fresh herbs as garnish.
  • I prefer to serve the crackers and breads separately to maintain their crispness. The breads can be added to the same platter as the cheese is this is what you prefer.

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