The path to cheese appreciation lies on the palate and on the table. Sampling a single cheese can be illuminating, but tasting two or three in a convivial social setting can be both educational and indulgent, whether you create an informal cheese board or a more refined presentation called a cheese plate.
The cheese plate is a stylish way of providing each guest with their own personal array of cheeses to savor as they sit at a table. It can consist of anywhere from one to three or four well-chosen cheeses arranged in small portions on large, individual plates set out on the table along with a regular place setting (table knife, fork, spoon and a cloth napkin). Basic accompaniments such as a good, crusty bread (served warmed in a cloth-covered basket) and a compatible beverage, usually wine, are also arranged on the table. The cheeses should be chosen to represent a balanced spectrum of cheese types and textures, and cut into a portion size that reflects how the cheese plate fits into the scheme of your entertaining or dining plans. (for appetizers 1 oz. chunks or slivers of each cheese, for a hearty, filling portion 2 or 2 1/2 oz. each should do).
Arrange the cheese portions equidistant on the plate close to the outer rim. Then, in between them, arrange the accompaniments - whole or sliced fresh fruit, dried or fresh berries, paper-thin slices of cured meat, a thin slice of fruit paste, some glistening olives, or a scattering of toasted nuts.
Jenkins makes the following suggestions:
An Italian Plate:
An American Plate:
You can order the American cheeses directly by contacting these artisans:
Miles, Lillian, and Susan Cahn
Mill Hill Road
Pine Plains, NY 12567
Sally and Roger Jackson
Sally Jackson's Cheeses
Star Route, Box 106
Oroville, WA 98844
429 H St
Los Banos, CA 93635
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Steven Jenkins is vice president of Fairway Group Services at Fairway market. He is the author of the books Cheese Primer, which won a James Beard award, and The Food Life. His writing has appeared in numerous food publications.