The holiday season has arrived which means holiday themed events, festivities, work outings, and family gatherings fill your schedule every week and weekend in December. Food is always a theme and sometimes a stressful concept in figuring out what to bring or how to entertain your guests with an exciting food array and options that everyone will enjoy. Besides the fact that desserts are always a given during this holiday time, a big focus tends to be on appetizers as they can be easy and quick to prepare without too much hassle of taking the time to cook. In particular, the go-to appetizer would have to be a cheese platter. You may think, “This is easy to bring and hey, everyone loves cheese!” When you get to the grocery store, you then realize this may not have been the best idea as there are so many choices and different variations. Where to begin?
With a recent experience stepping into the cheese world working at a local Whole Foods, I wanted to put together a quick post and reference on “How to Build a Holiday Cheese Platter” to generate ideas this holiday season, as this dilemma on what cheeses and crackers to bring is very common and can be overwhelming in many cases. There are a lot of cheeses that exist these days beyond the basics, but it is fairly easy if you focus on the general cheese categories providing different textures and flavors and go from there.
The first few things you will always want to take into account are what kind of flavors you want to present, how many people will be consuming, how adventurous your crowd may be, accompanying flavors or pairings, and the different cheese types you want to have. If you want to cover all areas, focusing on a brie or washed rind cheese, a blue, a semi hard cheese, a fresh or semi soft cheese, and one unique flavored cheese is a great start and guideline to use. I have outlined below these categories, which cheeses fall under each, and some of my favorite suggestions:
Brie: Whether you are looking for a buttery, flavorful, and super creamy triple crème or a more mildly flavored brie, I think brie is an essential on any cheese platter. They can be paired with an assortment of different sweet jellies, pepper jellies, and savory flavors like basil, sun dried tomato, or rosemary. They have flavorful, edible rinds and a delicious, creamy center. Here are some great options!
- TRIPLE CRÈME:
- DOUBLE CRÈME:
- French Bonhomme Brie: A great all around, milder double crème brie sold by the round that is perfect for toppings and pairings. One of my favorites is to top with a sour cherry or fig spread with crumbled candied walnuts on top or simply top with honey. Can never go wrong!
- D’Affinois Double Crème: Stronger in flavor and delicious creamy texture with a great all around value.
- Camembert: Similar to brie but made in Normandy with a different flavor and texture to most brie. I would recommend the exclusive seasonal Camembert Aux Truffles for the holidays with an earthy truffle spread center.
Wash-Rind: Some cheeses are washed in a salty brine or even aged wines to create a flavorful and bold edible rind and inner soft cheese. These are typically funkier cheeses with bold flavors like Tallegio.
- French Somaintrain: A high quality French washed rind brie more common during the holidays. It has a unique “punch of flavor” that is bold and almost bitter-an acquired taste for sure!
- St. Soleil: Washed in an aged wine that is rich and creamy in flavor
Blue Cheese: Although I am not a fan of blue cheese, it is always a good contrast and variation in flavor for a cheese platter if you choose. There are many choices to choose from based on your preference!
- Neal Yard Colston Basset Stilton: This is a stronger more pungent blue with an interesting roast beef hint.
- Cambozola Black Label: If you want a creamier blue, this is a perfect option as it is a blue-brie fusion that is creamy and bold
- Dunbarton Blue: This is a milder option with a firmer texture if you are worried your crowd may not all be blue cheese fans. I do not like most blues but this one I can tolerate as it is a cheddar, blue fusion
Semi- Hard: This category includes some of my favorite aged cheeses such as cheddars, goudas, gruyeres, and sheep milk cheeses. For me, this category is essential on any cheese platter in order to include that sharp, salty, caramelized flavor to your assortment to contrast the other choices. Here are some of my favorites that include some different fusions of other cheeses as well!
- Red Barn Heritage White Cheddar Aged 3 years: One of my favorite cheddars made in Wisconsin with the taste of an extra sharp 3 year aged cheddar but with a creamy texture and finish.
- Alpha’s Morning Sun with Rosemary: An incredible cheddar and gruyere fusion cheese with a nutty, sweet, and rosemary herb flavor that is delicious!
- Cabot's Catamount Hills: This italian style cheese has amazing sweet caramel/ coffee flavor with a touch of salt and a firm, creamy texture-a delicious mix of flavors!
- GOUDA: The salty, sweet, caramelized flavors of goudas become more prominent as they are aged longer, so if you are looking for more flavor and salt deposits, go with a more aged gouda!
- Parrano: Semi aged gouda with a more creamy and balanced finish that pairs great with red wine
- Yodeling Goat-Gouda: A goat-gouda fusion that is flavorful and delicious!
- SHEEP’S MILK:
- Ewephoria Aged Sheep’s Milk: This cheese is similar to an aged gouda made with sheep’s milk. It is incredibly flavorful, smooth, and bold. I would highly recommend this cheese!
Fresh or Semi-Soft: Fresh cheeses include cheeses like goat, mozzarella, and ricotta cheeses that do not have a rind. Semi-soft cheeses are the ultimate snack and melting cheeses that always come in great variations or unique flavors like young goudas, some goat cheeses, jack cheeses, and young sheep’s milk cheeses.
- GOAT: There are many variations of goat cheeses with very distinct, different flavors and textures. Including a goat cheese in your assortment depends on your preference and what your crowd will enjoy. These are some popular choices you may want to include.
- Cyprus Grove Humboldt Fog: A very popular goat cheese that is soft with a layer of vegetable ash providing tangy notes and a flavorful finish. It goes great with a sweet pairing of honey or fruit.
- Ibores Raw Goat Milk Cheese: This is an excellent raw goat cheese made in Spain. It has a firmer texture with a bright orange rind. The flavor is more subtle and balanced than most goat cheeses-love this one!
- Drunken Goat Cheese: Another very popular Spanish cheese that is washed in a red wine!
- Fleur de Maquis: This is softer French sheep’s milk cheese with an herb rind and flavor of rosemary and thyme that is amazing!
Pairing and Accompaniments: Other things to include on cheese platter are pairings and accompaniments, but these do depend on your assortment of cheeses you decide. Here are a few things you may want to consider:
- Fruit: Fresh cut apples and pears are great addition to a platter to include a sweet contrast
- Candied Nuts
- Pepper Jams, sweet jams, or honey to go on top of cheeses
- Salami: Cheese and salami are an essential combo. I would suggest trying Creminelli Salamis as they are high quality and come in many different interesting flavors such as fig, fennel, gin, whiskey, and stuffed with cheeses such as Camembert.
- Crackers: An assortment of crackers is always a good idea to have with different cheeses. Here are some good brands!
- Raincoast Crisps
- Potter's Crackers (different assortments)
- 34° Crackers (different variations available)
- Rustic Bakery Crackers
- Gluten Free Options: Glutino Crackers, Nut Thins
Happy holidays and cheese exploring this season!
- Whole Foods Market: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/department/cheese#cheese101.
- Various other sources were used which you can find by clicking on the images