We’re not saying that cheese and charcuterie plates can change the world, but we are saying they make it better. Hear us out: They bring people together and make them happy. And they’re versatile, equally at home at a picnic and on a cozy night in. They work on a scorching evening when it’s too hot to turn on the oven, and they make a satisfying summer lunch. They’re simple to put together, yet arranging a truly great one can feel intimidating. Where to start?
Writer and cheese educator Christine Clark gives us insight into her no-fuss process, which becomes even simpler when you can order the goods through Caviar’s vendors, who deliver locally and ship nationally.
1. Keep it simple.
Instagram might have you believe that advanced art skills are required for making a cheese platter. Slices of salami shaped into flower bouquets! Ombre shades of dried fruits and esoteric accoutrements! If this is your speed, by all means go for it. But more complicated doesn’t necessarily mean better. “You don’t have to be a food stylist or an Instagram influencer to put together a memorable cheese plate,” says Clark. “If the cheese tastes good and is on a board or plate, congratulations, you just made a successful cheese plate.”
2. Mix it up.
“I like a mix of textures and flavors,” says Clark. “Something sweet, something salty, something crunchy, something that you can drizzle or spoon over the cheese.” Start with your favorite cheese, perhaps a tart goat or a crumbly clothbound cheddar or a zesty blue. Add slivers of salami, prosciutto, or speck. Pair with crackers or slices of crusty baguette. Fresh or dried fruit, jam or honey, or olives and nuts are all classic additions, but no need to stop there. Experiment with potato chips, peppadew peppers, or even shards of chocolate for an after-dinner cheese plate.
3. Remember that less is more.
Resist the urge to serve a large variety of charcuterie and cheese — nobody will keep them straight, and each item will lose its impact. If you have two or three stellar cheeses and one or two types of charcuterie, those will truly shine. Plus, big wedges make a great visual impact.
San Francisco’s La Fromagerie Cheese Shop has an Aged Gouda & Sweets Gift Box (delivered locally and shipped nationally!) that showcases two cheeses that deserve the spotlight. Beemster Classic, aged for 18 months, has layers of sweet flavor and a crunchy crystallization that developed slowly as it matured in a centuries-old stone warehouse in North Holland. It has a beautiful deep ochre color and notes of toasted walnuts and browning butter. Piave Vecchio is made in the Province of Belluno in the region of Veneto, in the foothills of the stunning Dolomite Mountains. The cheese has a bright sweetness balanced with a slight almond bitterness. Both pair beautifully with Dalmatia fig spread, made from juicy, ripe figs in Croatia, and crispy Olina's Bakehouse Natural Wafer Crackers.
4. Lean on the experts.
Cheese professionals know what cheese is best at any given moment as well as what goes best together. “Trained mongers will basically do all the work for you,” Clark agrees. You could go to your local cheese counter and have a conversation with the monger, who will give you samples (bonus!). Or you could leave the mixing and matching to the pros at Boarderie in West Palm Beach, Florida, who source their cheeses, meats, and pairings from around the world and assemble them into happy-making collections like the Diletto Cheese and Charcuterie Board, which is available to ship nationwide. That includes rich Pinot Grigio salami, truffled marcona almonds, Turkish figs, and Coppinger, a semi-soft washed rind cheese from Sequatchie Cove Creamery in Tennessee with a layer of vegetable ash running through the center.
5. Serve at room temp.
Cheese and charcuterie are at their best at room temperature, when all the complex and wonderful flavors and aromas can express themselves most fully. So remove your cheeses and cured meats from the fridge about an hour before you plan to serve them. Watch as they return to their full glory as they lose their refrigerator chill.
6. Invest in a pretty board.
Serving cheese and charcuterie on a gorgeous board is a great hack because it will make pretty much anything look worthy of a special occasion. For quick proof, see Seattle’s Slow Table, whose custom serving boards are made by artisans in the U.S. from single pieces of highest-grade walnut, so each is completely unique. They’re crafted to last a lifetime if you oil it every so often (use food-grade mineral oil); with just a little TLC, hardwood will age as well as your favorite Gruyere. You can order up that serving board on its own or laden with goodies. The Fireside Chats plate includes cornichons, olives, a chocolate bar, robiola, and truffled salami.