Ah - the cheese plate! Such a simple concept, but with limitless possibilities it can be difficult for a novice chef to know how to create a decadent cheese plate. The first rule of food is freshness, so take into consideration where you are and the season. A summer cheese plate in Palm Springs is going to have a different set of palate pleasers than an autumn cheese plate in Ithaca. Let's go over the basic design of cheese plate components and you can fill in the details depending on your locale!
Cheese is the obvious star of the show. Choosing a variety of options is best in terms of softness and flavor. Pair a pungent, washed-rind cheese, perhaps a blue, with a mild soft cheese, something like fontina, or even brie. You can tie in a new texture by adding a crumbly cheese or perhaps something spreadable - think feta or goat. You want options with synergy.
Now that you've chosen your cheeses, you'll want to pair them with fruit and fruit compotes. Remember what we said about keeping it fresh, but also bear in mind the flavor profiles. While pairing crunchy apple slices with brie or cheddar, you'll want a sweeter or sourer choice to go with your bleu, something like fig or cranberry. Scour the internet for recipes for compotes, you may find enticing combinations like cranberry compote with candied orange or fresh berry chutny. You'll want a combination of fresh fruit and preserved to add to the plate's decadence. Grapes area cheese plate staple; when in doubt, place a bunch around the side of your plate. Also, don't be afraid to consider herbed olives. Kalamata and oregano would be a divine choice for a feta or hot chile black olives can spice up a neutral cheese like mild cheddar. Get creative!
After choosing your cheeses and accompaniments, tie them together with a base; bread, crackers, and even vegetables can be used to fill this spot. A thin slice of crusty bread is always a crowd pleaser, but you may want to offer thinner crackers and cucumber slices for those watching what they eat. On the contrary, increase the level of indulgence by offering meat chips - baked slices of proscuitto or bacon - that can be used to hold cheese and the like.
Lastly, look over your selections and see if there are any finishing touches that may accent the flavors you have selected. A small saucer filled with honey or a red pepper coulis to drizzle can add a level of taste in more ways than one. Another option would be a chocolate sauce if you are creating a dessert cheese plate with choices like marscarpone and ricotta. In that situation small waffles or pieces of sugar cones may be used in place of bread or crackers. Cheese is an amorphous food with endless, delicious possibilities. Follow this simple process and you will serve your loved ones a perfectly curated appetizer or dessert; nothing says "I love you" like learning to create a decadent cheese plate!