Perfecting the Holiday Cheese Plate | culture: the word on cheese
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Perfecting the Holiday Cheese Plate

Editor’s note: This story was updated in December 2021

No holiday gathering is complete without a cheese plate. But how do you decide how many cheeses to provide, which to choose, and how much you need total? Here are some guidelines on assembling the perfect holiday cheese plate.

How Much is Enough?

You can estimate 3 – 4 ounces of cheese per person at your gathering. This means that a group of 10 people would need a total of about 2 pounds of cheese. You’ll divide this between the various cheeses you choose to serve.

Another good rule of thumb is to have at least 3 cheeses for your spread, but to increase that number by 1 cheese for every 3 guests. You don’t want to overwhelm your tasters though, so you may want to cap this number at 6 or 7 options total. This means that for that group of 10, you’ll want 5 cheeses.

Diversity is a Good Thing

Try to have a variety of flavors, textures, and milk types in your selection of cheeses. An all-cheddar cheese plate is a fun academic exercise, but for a party different people will have different tastes. You want everyone to be able to find a favorite on the plate. And with that in mind, you should also have some very accessible cheeses for the less-adventurous party goers.

We recommend having a hard cheese (like a cheddar, aged gouda, or pecorino); a soft cheese (a bloomy rind such as brie or a decadent cheese like a triple creme); a blue cheese; an adventurous cheese or two (washed rind cheeses are great for this); and a sheep or goat cheese. You can mix and match these to fit the number of cheeses you want to have and to cater to your guests palates.

Better Together

Accompaniments are half of what makes a cheese plate. They roughly fall into four categories:

  1. Drinks
  2. Charcuterie
  3. Preserves
  4. Pickles

You want your accompaniments to match your cheeses and vice versa. For a holiday party you may know that you want to have sparkling wine. In this case, you may want to pick richer, creamier cheeses for your plate and charcuterie and other sides that can stand up to that power pairing. Or, you may want to go with a selection of dark beers and spiced ciders, which will go better with very strong cheeses. Just choose a starting point: a drink, a cheese, or an accompaniment—and go from there.

As with cheeses, you want an array of flavors and textures in your accompaniments. Find things that are sweet, savory, and tart or crispy, chewy, and creamy. Keep in mind what you want the main focus to be. If you want cheese to be the star of the show, you might want a few simple accompaniments like fruit jams or sliced meats and crackers that don’t have flavorings. If you want to experiment with crazy crackers, maybe stick with some solid but uncomplicated cheeses. Or mix and match with a few solid options from each category.

Forward Thinking

The best cheese plate can be underwhelming or ignored by guests if you don’t serve it with style.

  • Warm Up: First, remove the cheeses from your refrigerator at least an hour ahead of time. This will allow them to come to room temperature, which means that they’ll be more flavorful and easier to cut and spread.
  • Border Patrol: For things like runny jams or juicy pickles, choose bowls that will contain them well and small spoons or forks for serving. This keeps things neat the whole evening long.
  • Separate Servers: Harder cheeses will require a knife with a sharp edge, while creamy cheeses will need something with a wide flat blade, and blue or flavored cheeses always need their own knife so their strong flavors don’t take over every cheese.
  • Who’s Who: Label the cheeses and accompaniments. You may feel silly doing it, but your guests will be thrilled. Especially if they find a new cheese they love and want to buy for themselves.

Our Holiday Cheese Plate

For our holiday party of 20, here’s what we’re thinking:

We’re saving the bubbly for New Year’s Eve and instead enjoying some of these rich, flavorful beers.

Full Sail Brewing Company’s Wassail
Shmaltz Brewing Company’s Flannel Hug
Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Christmas Ale
Deschutes Brewery Jubelale
Breckinridge Brewery Holidale

Since we have a rather large and adventurous group, we’re going with a larger group of bolder cheeses.

Grafton Village’s Clothbound Cheddar (something delicious but recognizable)
Cricket Creek Farm’s Berkshire Bloom (something creamy and rich)
Colston Basset Stilton (a truly traditional blue)
Vermont Creamery’s Cremont (a local favorite that combines goat flavor with satiny texture)
Cato Corner Farm’s Hooligan or Meadow Creek’s Grayson (a sticky, stinky, flavorful cheese)
Creminelli’s Tartufo Salami
Earthy Mushroom Pate from Alexian

Preserves & Pickles
These accompaniments run the full range of flavors and textures.

Caramelized Onion-Fig Spread by Gracious Gourmet
Membrillo (Spanish quince paste)
Cornichon (Teensy tart and crunchy French pickles)

We wanted two types of crackers: One that would stand back and let the flavor of the cheese shine through, and one that would bring some flavor and texture to the table.

34° Savory Crisps in Natural
Effie’s Homemade Corn Biscuits

Amy Scheuerman

Amy Scheuerman—culture's former web director—spent eight years in North Carolina where she developed a love of barbecue and biscuits before moving up north to get a degree in nutrition. She now works at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

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