What to include on a cheese platter

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Dear Lynne,

I want to do a big cheese platter the next time I host book club. Any ideas of what I should have and where should I buy the cheese?

–Regina in Pasadena

Dear Regina,

Never buy cheese in a place where you cannot taste it first, be it a supermarket, a cheese store or wherever. And if at all possible, go for artisan-made cheeses. Find top picks from artisan cheese competitions on the American Cheese Society’s website.

One secret to tasting cheese is always count to 10 after you swallow. The way a cheese lingers on your palate will tell you if you really like it, if it is over the hill or poorly produced. The aftertaste should spur a desire for more.

When you put together a cheese plate, you want contrast—something fresh, something nutty and easy to love, and something wonderfully funky and a little challenging.

Here are a few ideas: For five different cheeses, do a nutty-tasting crowd-pleaser like a fine, aged sharp cheddar, especially Vermont’s Grafton Gold or any of the aged cheeses of California’s Vella family. Have a creamy fresh goat cheese. Then taste for a ripened one like Capriole’s Wabash Cannonball or Cypress Grove Chevre’s Humboldt Fog. Have a soft, deliciously funky, washed rind cheese like an Italian Taleggio. One more big, complex and nutlike cheese could be LoveTree Farmstead’s Trade Lake Cedar Cheese or the constant favorite, a Swiss Gruyere tasting of grapes and nuts.

Serve the cheeses with bread and crackers (nothing flavored with spice or herbs), fig jam and maybe candied orange peel. Both are great foils for cheese.

-Lynne

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