A cheese tray should be attractive as well as appetizing. It will be one of the first or last things presented to your guests, depending on whether it's being served before or after the meal, and as such, serves as a first or final impression of the meal you've prepared.
The first step in designing a cheese tray is to select the platter. Choose a flat platter, without grooves or rims that can make cutting the cheese difficult. While plastic platters are common, wood, earthenware, wicker, marble or glass provides a more attractive surface. Wood is a good choice if you will be cutting the cheese on the platter, and marble has the advantage of keeping cheese at a consistent temperature, making slicing easier.
Arranging Whole Cheeses
If you are presenting a cheese platter to a small group, leaving the cheeses whole can provide an attractive presentation. Place each cheese on a large flat leaf. If you're using a leaf from your garden, make sure it hasn't been exposed to pesticides. Position the cheeses with their cut side out, and leave room between the cheeses. Provide a separate knife for each cheese to avoid mixing the flavors.
Arranging Cut Cheeses
If you are serving a cheese tray at a cocktail party, you'll probably want your guests to be able to pick up the cheese quickly, without bothering to slice it. Arranging a platter of cut cheeses can be just as attractive as a platter featuring cold cheeses. Start by looking at the platter for inspiration. A round platter lends itself to overlapping triangles of sliced cheese, arranged in concentric circles. Consider interweaving the cheese slices with crackers, making it easy for a guest to grab a slice of cheese and a cracker at the same time. Consider arranging cubes of different types of cheeses in the corners of a rectangular or square platter, with a basket containing crackers or bread in the middle. Create rows of cheeses on a square or rectangular tray. If you choose this design, make sure the cheeses are easily distinguishable so the rows provide a distinct contrast.
Fruits and Condiments
While leaves, parsley and flowers can provide an attractive garnish to cheese platters, using edible garnishes is both practical and attractive. Green and red grapes look good with wedges of Brie or Camembert. Pomegranate seeds provide a nice touch when scattered over cubes or slices of Havarti cheese. Apple slices can substitute for crackers, layered with slices of cheddar cheese. If using apples, make sure to soak them in a citric acid solution first to prevent browning. Consider adding a small bowl of honey mustard to a cheese tray that includes cheddar or jack cheese. Figs, dates and nuts can also add both beauty and flavor when included on a cheese tray.
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