Hola! This is Marla (site manager for #delaluz) here to talk cheese! I love cheese… but to be honest with you, in the past the idea of building a cheese platter at the grocery store for a get-together or hosting friends always left me just trusting my gut and sticking to basic pleasers like Cheddars and Bries! As you may all know our Chef Marcela, the mastermind behind it all is getting ready to welcome the newest member of her tribe, Petunia (nickname) so I was assigned to do some major cheese research on her behalf. In fact, when I walked into the job almost a year ago, unlike Chef Marcela and photog/food editor Isabella, I was next-to-clueless about all things kitchen… with a side of killer quesadillas, of course!
So you can imagine how I felt on that fateful day in my first month when, as she was busily prepping dinner for a special guest, Marcela gave me the task of running to the local grocery store to select some cheeses for her tray. I didn’t want to bother her with questions - I mean, I was brand new! I was afraid she’d wonder: “Where did I find her…? And do they take returns?”
My mouth opened and “Yes, of course! I’ll be right back,” came out. And then I sat there in my car Googling ‘the perfect cheese tray.’ Nothing! How could there be no guide spelling out how to make a cheese tray… or even identifying what types of cheeses to pick?
Well this story ends well, since (thankfully!) going with my gut got me through one more day - but let’s be honest: that was just luck! I couldn’t have been more thrilled when we sat down to go over the blog calendar and Marcela mentioned doing a post on how to create a perfect cheese tray… with the #delaluz touch, of course!
So to build this guide, Isabella and I met with Gina Frieze, owner of one of our favorite shops in San Diego, Venissimo Cheese. It was such a treat… her knowledge of cheese is just awe-inspiring! You guys, get ready for an amazing Cheese 101 lesson; I know I have a new understanding and devotion for cheese, and hopefully it’ll rub off on you, too!
How to Create the Perfect Cheese Tray
Variety is key
Use a variety of milk origins, such as those derived from cow, sheep, and goat.
Choose a variety of countries where the cheeses are from for diversity.
Include a variety of textures… mild to “wild,” or creamy to “blue cheese.”
Sides are important
Include savory sides such as olives, nuts, etc.
Include sweet sides such as honey or jams to balance out the salty nature of cheese. Tip: Chocolate is a great sweet side when paired with blue cheese!
Sliced salamis, prosciuttos, paté, or jamón serrano are great additions for your charcuterie element.
Don’t forget to add some crackers or baguettes… but there is no right or wrong with this one. It truly depends on your personal preference!
Shapes are important when cutting cheese to make a platter stand out!
The only rule is NO CUBES! Try to avoid slicing your cheese into cubes! Instead, choose triangles or matchsticks.
When working with a hard cheese (such as a cheddar), making it look like rock candy is the way to go.
Garnish with things that are easy to find (perhaps in your garden?) such as rosemary, thyme, sage, or even flowers!
Let your imagination run wild with garnishes!
Extra Cheesy Tips:
No two wheels of cheese will ever taste the same, so it is important to always ask for a sample of the cheese when out shopping to make sure you still like it!
ALWAYS eat the rinds. Some of them might be overwhelming in flavor, but others are just scrumptious.
Remove your cheeses from the fridge at least one hour before serving.
Before serving, keep cheeses wrapped to prevent them from losing their moisture.
Beer is a great compliment to all cheeses because of their yeast-like elements.
If white wine is your choice, stick to a Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling for their crispy flavors that will blend perfectly with cheese.
If red wine is your drink of choice, stick to a Pinot Noir; it is the most perfect and safe red to pair with cheese. That is, unless you love the stronger cheeses… then a Cab will get the job done!
Champagne is great for any of the creamy cheeses but can also work well with a hard Parmesan.
For those who want to keep it alcohol free:
Try apple juice or any other sweet fruit juice.
Coffee is a great compliment for cheese!
And finally, if you want to keep it simple with water, make sure it’s sparkling water… flat water will wash the flavor away!
Marcela was given one task for Thanksgiving with her family: bringing the cheese tray! Just like everything else she does, this had to be up to the next level – so here’s a guide to building a cheese platter just like hers!
Alp Blossom, mild cheese
Milk type: cow
This cheese is literally rolled in herbs from the Alps in Austria, giving it that stunning factor.
Paski Sir, mild cheese
Milk type: sheep
This cheese was paired with the quince from Mexico. When pairing cheese with quince, sheep milk cheese is a must!
Cavatina, soft cheese
Country: USA (northern California)
Milk type: goat
Cambozola Black,“wild’ soft cheese
Milk type: cow
This is one of the “wild” cheeses (as it is a blue cheese), but a much lighter and softer version.
Mimolette, hard cheese
Milk type: cow
As Gina likes to say:“ if Cheddar and Gouda had a baby, this would be it.”
Dried fruit, such as figs, cranberries and apricots
Castelvetrano green olives
Brezaola for the charcuterie element
While some cheeses aren’t as wallet-friendly, these tips will allow you options whether you’re someone who wants to keep it basic, or a person who wants to go big! Venissimo can build a cheese platter that will serve 6 people for $40 (and ships nationwide!) or, if you want to do it on your own to keep it even more price-friendly, stick with two varieties of cheese (whether mild, soft, or hard) and just add some sides. You can even use that extra jam you have left in your fridge for a sweet side!
Happy Cheese Shopping!