How to Assemble a Cheese Tray

A selection of cheeses at Bistro Vivant (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
A selection of cheeses at Bistro Vivant (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
A selection of cheeses at Bistro Vivant (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

Whether you’re having a party, setting up a buffet, or just enjoy cheese, here’s how to assemble a cheese tray. Sampling a number of cheeses is a great way to branch out from your usual tastes considering the vast variety now available in your local grocery store. Most cities now have gourmet grocers with expanded fancy cheese sections and perhaps even specialty cheese shops. My local Whole Foods Market has an outstanding cheese section. I’m sure your local grocer has a great selection as well.

Below, I will show you assortments of different cheeses, how to serve the cheeses, what to serve with them, and a few of my favorite cheese platter combinations!

Cheese Plate at Evo Bistro in McLean, Virginia (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Cheese Plate at Evo Bistro in McLean, Virginia (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

One of my absolute favorite meals is a cheese assortment with an addition of pate, fruit, whole nuts and other condiments. A nice salad, a crusty loaf of bread, and a bottle of a favorite wine can round out the meal. That’s my Friday night go-to menu and it works well — no real “cooking” is involved — just assembling a platter. And instead of ordering dessert at restaurants, my husband and I will split a cheese plate as an end to the meal.

Wine, cheese, and baguette - my favorite dinner! (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Wine, cheese, and baguette – my favorite dinner! (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

For breakfast, soft cheese options such as brie, camembert, or cream cheese can accompany a slab of smoked salmon, capers, sliced red onion, and fresh dill. Serve with fresh baguette slices or toasted bagels and maybe some sliced Granny Smith apples on the side. Freshly squeezed orange juice and mimosas as well as coffee and teas can be offered.

For our most recent Christmas morning “brunch”, I assembled the below platter of smoked salmon, homemade smoked salmon spread, cream cheese, camembert, roquefort, dried cranberry-covered goat cheese log, a mozzarella/basil/prosciutto roll-up cut into rounds, country pate, slices of smoked Gouda, fresh orange slices, and sweet ricotta — all sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. On the side were garlic-stuffed olives, sweet red peppers, and toasted almonds. A sliced wheat baguette and some walnut-raisin bread were served as well.

Cheeses and smoked salmon on Christmas Morning (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Cheeses and smoked salmon on Christmas Morning (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

For a party, offer three or four cheeses, some dried or fresh fruits, assorted nuts, and perhaps a potted meat or some cold cuts. Offer pickles, olives, and mustards or jams. A sliced baguette or some crackers will act as a base for your guests’ cheese creations. Usually a cheese tray with four cheeses and accompaniments will serve 10 people as an appetizer course, and 4 people as a main course, depending on the portions.

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From the kitchen of A Food Lover’s Delight….

How To Assemble A Cheese Tray

Select 3 or 4 cheeses. One soft cheese, one hard cheese, a runny cheese, and perhaps a cheese spread. Most sliceable and softer cheeses taste better at room temperature so you can set them out 30 minutes prior to eating. Cheeses such as sweet ricotta should be kept refrigerated until you are ready to eat.

The cheese case at Whole Foods Market in Springfield, VA (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
The cheese case at Whole Foods Market in Springfield, VA (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
A selection of Gouda cheeses at Whole Foods Market (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
A selection of Gouda cheeses at Whole Foods Market (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

Use a different utensil for each cheese. Some guests may not be fond of pungent blue cheese smears along with their sweet ricotta. Spreaders work best with soft cheeses, and knives are appropriate for harder cheeses. Laguiole offers a nice selection of cheese knives.

A selection of bleu cheeses at Whole Foods Market (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
A selection of bleu cheeses at Whole Foods Market (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Whole Foods Market carries a wide variety of cheeses (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Whole Foods Market carries a wide variety of cheeses (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

Offer a selection of meats such as sliced prosciutto or other cold cuts, a slab of pate, a ramekin filled with a potted meat spread such as pork rillettes, and perhaps some dried and cured meats.

Pate selection at Whole Foods Market (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Pate selection at Whole Foods Market (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

Offer a bread item such as sliced French baguette, dark pumpernickel, dense whole wheat, or assorted mini rolls. Guests might like to try some crackers along with the cheeses and meats. Whole Foods Markets sells organic mini-toasts in wheat or white which are already cut bite-size for your cheese platter.

Assorted crackers that go well with a cheese tray (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Assorted crackers that go well with a cheese tray (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Whole Foods Markets organic mini toasts in wheat and white go well with cheese and pate spreads (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Whole Foods Markets organic mini toasts in wheat and white go well with cheese and pate spreads (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Whole Foods Market baguette (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Whole Foods Market baguette (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

A couple slices of fresh fruit, pieces of dried fruit, or some nuts can be used as edible garnishes. Apples, apricots, peaches, pears and cherries go well with cheeses. Whole almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts are good nut choices. Several condiments such as country mustard, fruit jam, quince paste, honey, and creamy butter will go well depending on your cheese selections.

To quench your guests’ thirsts, offer sparkling water, spring water, soft drinks, beer, red or white wines, or even champagne!

It helps to label your cheeses so your guests know what they are sampling. If you have a large selection of cheeses, you can group by goat’s milk cheeses, cow’s milk cheeses, sheep’s milk cheeses, etc. An attractive option is to use a piece of slate and write the names of the cheeses in white chalk. I like to use a cool stone base such as granite or marble for my cheese trays. You can use ceramic plates, or even wooden carving boards. The more rustic, the better! If you’re going for elegance, a nice plain white ceramic platter always works well.

Offer small plates along with napkins. Most cheese is finger food so your guests should only need a fork or knife if you’re having a more formal party.

Cheeses at Whole Foods Market (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Cheeses at Whole Foods Market (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

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Some examples of possible cheese tray combinations are:

1. The European Platter: Wedge of Roquefort bleu, wheel of French brie, slab of Swiss Emmentaler, and a thick slice of Comte. Almonds and walnuts. Sliced prosciutto and a slice of country pate. A ramekin of pork or duck rillettes. Cornichons (small French dill pickles) and Dijon mustard. European butter. Sliced fresh pear. Thin slices of French country wheat baguette. Serve with a red French burgundy wine.

2. The Savory Smoked Platter: Smoked cheddar spread, smoked Gouda, and smoky bleu cheese. Smoked almonds. Sliced smoked salami and smoked ham. Hearty crackers and sliced dense multigrain bread. Creamy butter and some dijon mustard. Serve with beer or a Pinot Noir or Cabernet wine.

3. The Sweetie Platter: Sweet ricotta, soft goat cheese with ash, and Herve Mons‘ St. Nuage cheese (available at Whole Foods Market). Almonds and walnuts. Honey, quince paste and apricot jam. Dates, dried apricots and dried Bing cherries. Fresh strawberries and blueberries. Carr’s whole wheat crackers and sliced French baguette. Serve with champagne, sparkling wine, or a sweet white wine.

4. The Hearty Platter: Smoked Gouda, Danish Havarti, Manchego, Pepper Jack, Sage Derby, and Port Wine cheese spread. Shrimp with cocktail sauce. Capicola ham, salami, and Virginia honey ham slices. Sweet and dill pickles. Hearty honey mustard, country dijon mustard, and mayonnaise. Kaiser rolls or slices of hearty Italian bread. Serve with a heavy red wine or dark beer.

5. The Smoked Salmon Platter: Soft cream cheese, creme fraiche, and smoked salmon spread. Slab of smoked salmon. Minced red onion and whole capers. Lemon wedges and fresh dill sprigs. Sliced French baguette. Serve with a rose or red wine.

And slightly related, and can be served alongside your cheese platter is the Antipasti Platter: Check out How to Assemble an Antipasti Platter here.

Below are some images of cheese plates that I’ve made at home and some that I’ve experienced at favorite restaurants:

Cheeses, pate and cornichons (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Cheeses, pate and cornichons (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Pot of pate with assorted cheeses at Cafe Artifact  (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Pot of pate with assorted cheeses at Cafe Artifact (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
The cheese plate at Lightfoot Restaurant in Leesburg, VA (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
The cheese plate at Lightfoot Restaurant in Leesburg, VA (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Assorted cheese platter (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Assorted cheese platter (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
New Year's Eve Midnight Buffet with cheeses and smoked salmon (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
New Year’s Eve Midnight Buffet with cheeses and smoked salmon (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Assorted cheeses and fruits at the Cafe-Bar Artefact in the lobby of Auberge Saint-Antoine
Assorted cheeses and fruits at the Cafe-Bar Artefact in the lobby of Auberge Saint-Antoine, Quebec City (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Smoked salmon and assorted cheeses with French baguette served for breakfast (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Smoked salmon and assorted cheeses with French baguette served for breakfast (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

What are YOUR favorites for a cheese tray? What accompaniments do you prefer? Leave a comment and let me know!

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