Cheese Tray 101

I have always enjoyed cheese, but as a kid I mostly knew the "sandwich cheeses" - Swiss, Cheddar, Pepper Jack and  maybe a little Feta and Blue Cheese. Since becoming an "adult," my list of cheeses has grown exponentially and I have fully embraced all types of cheese including the stinky ones! In fact, cheese may be one of my favorite foods. Most likely, I would choose a piece of a cheese over a piece of pie any day. However, that doesn't mean that putting together a cheese tray for a party whether you are hosting or attending isn't daunting. There is such an assortment of cheese and choosing which ones work better with others, how much do you really need and what you should put with them are all very important questions. Over the years, I have discovered a few favorites and can quickly grab a few to put together a tray, but I always learn something new when I talk to the cheese expert behind the counter. So I thought I would share some of my tips as well as my favorite pairings below! 

More often than not, I purchase my cheese from my local grocery store, Kroger, where they have a huge space devoted to Murray's Cheese and enough samples that you can taste your way through. This time though, I wanted to try something new and found family owned J.E. Gibbs Cheese in Findlay Market. As you can see above, the amount of cheese is just unbelievable and it doesn't take long to become overwhelmed (don't worry, I survived)! After sampling at least six or seven cheeses I selected Aged Gouda, Da Vinci and St. Andre Tripe Cream Bri, all shown below. 

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Tips

  • To put together a good cheese tray, I highly recommend a variety. Having 7 different cheeses isn't necessary unless you have a huge group, but having 3-4 different cheeses is usually best. 
  • Variety can mean anything, but choosing one from each category of hard, semi-soft and soft is usually a good. Doing one of each is a good start and then if you want to try something a bit weird or really love a semi-soft cheese add it! 
  • I also like to include a couple that most everyone will recognize. For example, I don't know many people who will turn down Gouda or Brie, but the Da Vinci filled with a touch of olives, tomatoes and Mediterranean herbs isn't going to be loved by everyone, although honesty they are missing out!
  • Cheese can get pricey fast, so think about how much you really need. The cheese tray above was for about 12-15 people as an appetizer, with dinner to follow. Ideally, no one will be stuffing their face with cheese, but there is enough for everyone to try some. In this case, I got a 1/4 lb of Da Vinci and 1/2 lb of both the Gouda and Brie, and lucky for me I have left overs! 
  • Don't forget the pairings. Again, you can keep this pretty simple and don't need everything, but some of my favorites include - fig jam (amazing with Brie,) grapes, apples for fall, olive oil and rosemary, nuts, honey and of course a dried meat, crackers and warm bread. 
  • If there is a larger group, I try and keep the pairings pretty limited so you don't have a big mess of honey covering the floor, but fruit and nuts are super easy and add a bit of color to the tray as well. 
  • I know it may not be as pretty with cheese all cut up, but make sure to cut a few slices off each cheese so your guests don't think it is too precious to enjoy. And make sure to leave a couple cheese knives for them to use!
  • Last but not least, don't be scared to try your cheeses before you buy them whether at Kroger or your local cheese shop. There are a couple that I don't necessarily need to try anymore, but if you are wanting to mix it up a bit or heard great things about a cheese, try it out first before you put it in front of all your guests! 

Hopefully, this makes the whole process a little less daunting and a lot more exciting! Personally, I could try cheeses all day, so often it is my favorite thing to put together for a party. Do you have any favorites that I need to try? 

Happy Tasting!  

-a. 

ps. Happy Back to the Future Day... do you think the Cubs will win the World Series?