Making a cheese plate is like a DIY project except the result is edible. We don’t just make them for friends. We also make cheese plates on nights when we’re chilling at home with Netflix and a bottle of wine.
Living in Lisbon, we love to buy cheese at local markets and make cheese plates with things we have in our apartment. Beyond cheese, we use basic kitchen tools and ingredients that we have in our pantry.
The result turns a TV night at home into a date night, something we’re doing more frequently these days. Adding wine transforms the cheese plate into a party for two.
Our Cheese History
Our passion for cheese started in Philadelphia before we became full-time travelers. As part-time travelers, we satisfied our culinary wanderlust by eating cheese from countries like France, Italy and England as well as artisan cheese produced in American states like California and Vermont.
Daryl toyed with the idea of opening a cheese shop but decided otherwise after working at a local cheese counter. Though the experience dashed his cheesy retail aspirations, it stoked his obsession for quality cheese.
Later, during our three-year nomadic stint, we ate some of the world’s best cheese in European cities and at rural dairy farms. While staying in Lyon, we attended the San-Marcellin cheese festival. We even filmed a cheese tasting YouTube video with a Cape Town cheesemonger. In other words, we ate a lot of cheese on the road.
Our Relationship with Cheese Today
Now that we’re based in Lisbon, we primarily eat Portuguese cheese that we buy at local markets. We often keep a wheel of Queijo de Azeitão in the fridge – an oozy, sheepy, snappy Portuguese torta cheese made with thistle instead of animal rennet.
Sometimes, though, we splurge on a French wedge of raw milk Brie de Meaux. It’s not too much of a splurge since French cheeses are highly affordable in Portugal. Unlike in the US, laws permitting unpasteurized cheeses are fairly liberal in most of Europe.
Tasty Tips for Making a Cheese Plate at Home
Making a cheese plate is a creative, fun thing to do in the kitchen using simple ingredients found in most pantries. Without much effort, you can learn how to make a cheese plate and make it your own. The options and variations are practically endless when it comes to the types of cheese and accouterments to include.
However, you’ll want to follow a basic guideline to make sure your cheese plate for two is balanced and attractive. You deserve a great looking and tasting cheese platter even when you’re not entertaining friends or colleagues.
Cheese Plate Prep
The most important step in making a DIY cheese plate is to take the cheese out of the fridge an hour or so before constructing the plate. You’ll want to let the cheese naturally ripen to room temperature. Once ripened, the full flavors from cheese like Comté and Aged Cheddar will jump off your tongue while the rich textures of cheeses like Roquefort and Epoisses will coat your mouth with luxury.
After you take out the cheese, you can get organized at your convenience since there’s no other advance prep required. When you’re ready, gather the following items:
Securing a cheese board is critical both for logistics and aesthetics. Not only does the board serve as the cheese platter’s base but it also sets the visual tone.
If you don’t have a cheese board, you can order one online or use a cutting board. In a pinch, you can even use a plate.
Other Kitchen Tools
The beauty of a cheese platter is that you don’t need any fancy kitchen appliances. Most likely, you already have all the tools in your kitchen drawers.
Not surprisingly, you’ll need a cheese knife or two. We like to use a Laguiole cheese knife produced by one of the famous French town’s cutlery manufacturers located near Maison Bras. You can use a butter knife if you don’t have a cheese knife.
What to Include on Your Cheese Plate
Cheese is the only mandatory item on a cheese plate. Otherwise, it would just be a plate.
Before you brainstorm, creating a list of cheese plate ideas, decide if you want to make a gourmet cheese plate, a budget cheese plate or a seasonal cheese plate. As for us, we typically make a cheese platter based on what we already have in our pantry and fridge.
We like to use three kinds of cheese to make a simple date night cheese plate. Ideally, we include one soft cheese, one hard cheese and one blue cheese We add additional cheese for more people, but three wedges is more than enough for the two of us.
You can switch up the mix and create a plate representing three different nations like France, Italy and England. Or, you can select cheese from three different kinds of milk like cow, sheep and goat.
On this cheese plate, we decided to keep our cheeses on the soft side but still constructed a variety of flavors. We picked a spoonable Portuguese torta, a medium-soft, mild sheep milk cheese produced in Charneca near Lisbon and a wedge of umami-rich, slightly stinky Brie de Meaux from France.
When you’re deciding what cheese to include on our plate, consider some of our international and domestic favorites:
- Italy – Pecorino Toscano ( Hard Sheep), Taleggio (Soft, Cow)
- France – Comté (Hard Cow), Epoisses (Soft, Washed Rind, Cow), Selles-sur-Cher (Soft, Goat)
- Spain – Manchego (Medium to Hard, Sheep), Garrotxa (Hard, Goat)
- USA – Pleasant Ridge Reserve (Hard Cow), Rogue River Blue (Soft Blue Cow), Winnimere (Soft Cow)
- UK and Ireland – Montgomery’s Cheddar (Hard, Cow), Stichelton (Medium, Cow)
And some favorite cheese types:
- Soft Cheese – Fresh Chevre (Goat), Brie (Cow), Camembert (Cow)
- Hard Cheese – Manchego (Sheep), Parmigiano (Cow), Aged Cheddar (Cow)
- Blue Cheese – Gorgonzola (Cow), Stilton (Cow), Roquefort (Sheep)
- Washed Rind Cheeses – Epoisses (Cow), Taleggio (Cow)
Countries like the USA, Ireland and the UK have entered the cheese production renaissance. Leave your cheese comfort zone and try a new cheese or two.
Adding accouterments is where you get to use your creativity while ‘shopping’ in your fridge and pantry. Most likely you already have enough tasty tidbits to make a cheese platter come to life.
When we were making this cheese board, we used Italian honey (yum!) that we bought on a trip to Trentino last year as well as locally sourced olives, pickled garlic, charcuterie and locally grown pears. Besides the cheese, we had all of the ingredients in our kitchen.
Don’t feel obligated to add cured meats if you’re a vegetarian or want to keep the cost down. Though we often turn our cheese plate into a cheese and meat plate, adding charcuterie is totally optional.
Bread or Crackers
You’ll need a vessel for the cheese – that’s where bread and crackers come to play. As a bonus, these carbs help fill you up during a lazy night of TV watching.
We typically pull out a box of crackers or slice a baguette. For this cheese plate, we channeled our inner-Martha Stewart and made crackers out of day-old bread.
You can easily make crackers by slicing stale bread and baking it in the oven. Just pre-heat the oven to 350 (°F) or 175 (°C) and bake bread slices on a pan for approximately 12 minutes or until brown.
Cheese Plate Assembly
Assembling the cheese plate is the fun part of the process. This is where your cheese platter comes to life.
You can fill every space or leave room for crackers. You can make it colorful by adding greenery and jams. Or you can keep it simple.
There is no right or wrong way to make a cheese plate. The choices are up to you based on what you like, what you have, what you can buy and your budget.
Fill a basket or bowl with crackers or bread so that your cheeseboard has plenty of room for cheese and other goodies.
Serve with Wine and Relax
As you probably know, cheese and wine pair like a dream. Be sure to have a bottle (or two) of your favorite wine to drink during your private cheese party.
Should you drink red, white or rosé? The answer is yes. Depending on the cheeses you buy, you can always pick some great wines to go with anything you’re eating.
We generally drink red wine with our cheese plates. What kinds of wines to drink are up to you. We recommend trying different vintages, varietals, and appellations to compare and contrast the flavors of your cheeses. You’ll then be able to create wine and cheese pairings that suit yousr taste.
Sheep cheese generally pair wonderfully with medium-bodied reds while goat cheese generally pairs well with tight, dry acidic whites. Stinkier, washed-rind cheese, though fragrant, is often mildly flavored and pairs well with whites like chardonnay.
Crack open a bottle of craft beer or French cider if you’re not into wine.
Dim the lights. Turn on Netflix. Breathe in. Breathe out. And go. It’s time to eat cheese!
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.