Entertain like a pro! Here’s how to prepare a great cheese platter

Christmas and New Year’s might be over, but who says cheese platters are only for the festive season? Come to think of it, is there ever a wrong time for a good cheese platter? (The answer is a resounding no!)

If becoming a better cook/entertainer happens to be on your list of New Year’s resolutions, then you’re in luck. Putting together a fabulous cheese platter might not be considered cooking per se, but it’s no less impressive, and your guests will certainly enjoy it just as much as a delicious main course.

As anyone who loves to entertain guests knows, planning a proper, full-fledged dinner party is lots of work. There’s the menu to consider, seating to think about, drinks, music and maybe even décor – all of which you’ll need to organise and put together. The evening begins the minute your guests step through your door, and, if all goes well, will end long after dessert has been served.

Cheese platters are great for entertaining because they’re easy to prep (as long as you’ve bought all the right items), they look amazing, and they really add a touch of luxury and indulgence to any evening. The best part: as impressive as a beautiful cheese platter looks, it’s really not as complicated as you might think. Here are seven helpful tips on creating the perfect cheese platter for your guests.

Pick a theme

Cheese comes in almost countless varieties, so pick a theme and sample several options within that category. Just remember to stick to odd numbers, so three or maybe five cheeses to make up your platter. Here are a few ideas:

a) Go with different textures and flavours, and select one of each from several different types of cheese. For instance, you could have a soft and creamy cheese such as Brie, a firmer style cheese such as cheddar, gouda or gruyere, and a blue cheese.

b) Stick to cheeses made from the same type of milk, so cow, goat or sheep’s milk.

c) Select different types of cheeses from within the same family. For example, you could have just soft-ripened cheeses and include Brie, Camembert and any other type of cheese that has a similar white rind.

d) Have a few different cheeses that are all from the same country, such as Spanish cheeses.

e) If you’re serving your cheese platter before dinner, stick to lighter cheeses such as fresh mozzarella and goat cheese. If it’s served as/with dessert, go for rich and creamy options such as triple cream Brie and full flavoured varieties like cheddar, aged gouda and blue cheeses.

Don’t forget the accompaniments

A great cheese platter has more than just cheese and crackers on offer. When doing the grocery shopping, don’t forget to look out for spreads or accompaniments.

These can range from something as simple as a small pot of honey to exquisite, artisanal spreads in interesting flavours. Include a savoury option such as mustard, cured meat or olives, as well as sweet alternatives like chutney, fresh or dried fruit, or candied nuts.

You don’t have to choose between bread and crackers

Why not have both? Crackers are the easy and popular choice, but some sliced baguette or breadsticks on the side won’t just look great, they will also add texture and variety to the mix. Better yet, include breads that contain dried fruit or nuts.

Don’t be too adventurous

Unless you know your guests will really appreciate it, try not to be overly adventurous with your cheese options. That means saying no to that extra stinky blue cheese. Besides the risk that it will overpower all the other flavours on your cheese platter, you definitely don’t want your guests to mistake that stinky smell for something (or someone) else.

Prepare in advance

Plate up your cheeses, spreads, breads and crackers an hour before serving, and let them sit at room temperature. If you can, label each cheese and condiment so your guests know exactly what they’re enjoying. It will also save you from having to repeat the names all evening.

Don’t overbuy

Quality cheese can be expensive and you certainly don’t want anything to go to waste. Knowing exactly when you’ll serve your cheese platter is important when buying cheese.

If you’re having cheese before a meal, prepare a little bit more. If you’re serving it after the main meal, then you won’t need as much. Consider also how much your guests like cheese. If everyone’s a cheese connoisseur in the making, then you might want to buy a little bit more – and make sure you pick the good stuff!

As a general guideline, you should look to buy about 20-25g of each type of cheese per guest. That means if you’re having a party of six, you’ll want about 125g of each type of cheese.

Don’t stress about the tools

A good cheese platter doesn’t necessarily have to come with all the right knives. As long as you set out a separate knife for each cheese – ones that are capable of doing the job, of course – your guests won’t even notice all that much. It’s what’s actually on the platter that counts!