Well, now you know all about cheese categories, but how do you put it to use when it's time to make a cheese plate for showing off and consumption? People often ask me if they should use bread or crackers, nuts or olives, fruit or honey. I tell them all the same thing, "it's your preference". I'm not being a smarty pants, I mean it. With a few exceptions, you're not going to make any drastic mistakes, and honestly if it tastes good to you, it's not a mistake.
I'll tell you some of my preferences. I am NOT telling you what to do on your plate, just what I do and don't like on mine. My preferences change based on day, time, season, and what's in my pantry or fridge, but this is a pretty accurate list.
Olives: Unless I'm having a Blue, Spanish or Italian plate, I don't like olives with my cheese. I find that the brininess of the olives-something I normally love-I just don't appreciate with most cheese plates I make.
Nuts: I am anti-nut. No, it's not an allergy, I just don't care for most of them. Walnuts (unless candied or blanched) always have a bitter taste to them that I don't appreciate. Nuts are a great snack on their own, but on a cheese plate? No thanks.
Fruit: Yes Please! I love dates, figs, and chutneys on my cheese plate. Fresh fruit, dried fruit, homemade jam, I love them all. A little goes a long way though so be careful when adding these to your plate.
Honey: Sure. I like honey. If you have a favorite honey please, use it. Sparingly. There are a vast number of honeys out there. Some are incredibly fragrant, like flowers, while some are dark and have a molasses quality to them. Taste a few and see what you think.
Remember that you've spent good money to get quality cheese, don't skimp on the accompaniments. PUT AWAY THE HONEY BEAR!
Now when it comes to bread vs. crackers, I almost always want homemade bread. Especially made by either my best friend, or my pa. The yeastiness of the bread seems to be a natural for cheese. Crackers, even good crackers can't match the full flavor or texture of a hunk of bread.
If you want to use crackers I would advise you to use a good quality cracker with not a lot of flavoring to it. Rye, charcoal, and even rosemary can be really tasty. Carr's Water Crackers are fine, try Potter's Artisan Crackers, or if you're feeling zany, make your own. It's really not that hard.
Sometimes I just like eating cheese unadorned. Feta, blues and Cheddar are all delicious for just breaking into pieces and nibbling.
You should try different combos (no, I'm not talking about the pretzel and cheez snack) and find the pairing that works for you. Maybe it's a triple creme with a fruit and nut toast point. Maybe you like blue cheese with olive crackers or endive. Experiment. Try the same cheese with different fruits, nuts or olives. How does each of these things impact the tasting experience for you? The key here as it is with most things cheesy is TASTE.
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