While many people make a big deal about what goes with what, we generally believe there are no hard-and-fast rules to a cheese plate. Here, some guidelines.
Its best to buy cheese fairly close to the time you want to eat it, within a few days. Large pieces of cheese keep better than small pieces as they don’t lose as much moisture as smaller thin pieces, which will dry out much faster.
That means balanced flavors (strong, medium, mild), textures (hard, soft, semi-soft), and milk (cow, goat, sheep). For a party, it’s best to go for a mix.
We like to find cheeses that would be friendly if they met on the street. For example, rustic farmhouse cheeses with other farmhouse cheeses. We would not pair a commercially made cheddar with a farmer’s market artisan goat cheese.
Look for different shapes, sizes, cuts, rinds, and (yes) colors.
If you need a place to start, try putting regional things together. Cheeses tend to have regional or national styles that will work well together.
We prefer fresh slightly acidic fruits, fresh bread, or mild flavored crackers, which will serve to highlight the cheese. Things that are not overly sweet and have some herbal elements to bring them more in line with the cheese.
Many cheeses are seasonal products and are based upon what the cow, goat or sheep is eating at a certain point in the year. For instance, the best season for goat cheeses is the spring. The goats are eating fresh spring grasses and the milk takes on these pastoral aromas and produce amazing cheeses. Summer is a good season for cheeses with a bloomy or washed rind as they are benefitting from the lush pastures on which the cows are grazing. Ask a cheesemonger what is in season and particularly good at the time of year.
Storing cheese for too long in plastic wrap will encourage mold growth and the cheese will begin to deteriorate. We recommend using either cheese paper or wax paper and then storing in a sealed plastic box in the fridge. This allows the cheese to breathe while preventing it from drying out.
Take the cheeses out of your fridge and unwrap them about an hour before they are being served to bring them up to room temperature. Very cold cheese doesn’t taste like much.