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The cheese plateau

How do you serve cheeses? 

There are many variables that change the composition of a cheese plateau. Besides personal taste, which is never debatable, however, there are some tricks to follow to assure that the flavours, aromas, and textures are best enjoyed.

Quantity

When planning to serve a selection of cheeses as part of a full meal, it is a good idea not to overdo the courses served before. It may seem trivial, but approaching cheeses without having the slightest appetite will not allow the deserved value to the product.

Similarly, neither the number nor the quantity should be exaggerated. Five or six different kinds of cheese are more than enough. As to weight, calculate a 30-gram portion for each diner (then leave a margin for the rind).

Cutting

Cutting the cheeses properly, depending on the type, is essential, both from an aesthetic point of view and for the success of the tasting. For example, if we have caciotta cheese, the correct way to cut it is in wedges. Instead, if the cheese is cylindrical, like goat’s cheese may be, this will be cut into discs. Cheeses with the shape of a Taleggio DOP are cut into parallelepiped slices (which can then be cut into two). A soft, low cheese, like brie is cut first into four and each quarter is then divided again into two.

Tall cylindrical cheeses, such as in the case of some fresh goats’ cheeses, are divided lengthwise and then should cut into wedges.

In short, the rule is to follow the shape of the cheese as closely as possible, without distorting it and trying to give diners a part to taste that is “representative” of the whole and includes the rind. Of course, this is not always possible, especially if the cheeses are very large, like in the case of Grana Padano DOP and Parmigiano Reggiano DOP. 

Selection and tasting order

The most creative and fanciful part is certainly the selection of the cheeses composing the plateau. 

When we intend to offer a selection of fresh cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta, etc.) this should be served at the beginning of the meal, and not at the end as with aged cheeses. 

The selection is easier if offering mixed cheeses. In this case one can create a plateau composition with different types of milk, thus choosing a couple of fresh goat’s cheeses, two cow’s cheeses, some more mature pecorino, and finally blue cheese. Similarly, one can decide to compose a plateau of one kind of milk only, so a selection of only cow’s milk cheeses, or only goat’s milk cheeses, or only sheep’s milk cheeses.  Whatever our choice, the tasting should always be made starting from the freshest to the most aged, keeping the blue cheese as the last. This allows a better savouring of the taste crescendo.

If the diners are more ‘sophisticated’, perhaps a ‘vertical’ tasting can also be considered, that is, of a single type of cheese but in different maturities. This, of course, can only be done with certain types of cheeses: those for which different degrees of ripening are required.

The composition

As mentioned, tasting starts with the freshest cheeses that have a more lactic flavour and gradually moves towards more intense maturities and flavours. This is why it is good to try to compose the plateau in such a way that the order is clear. 

As an accompaniment, you could serve raw vegetables like radishes, celery, salad leaves, but also fruit, like pear or apple slices and grapes, as well as dried, dehydrated fruit or mustards.

They will make the plateau very inviting from an aesthetic point of view and will be a pleasant interlude to cleanse the mouth between one cheese and the next.

Essential for any type of cheese is that it be at room temperature, removed from the fridge at least an hour before serving. In fact, too low a temperature alters the tasting. The consistency changes (it often becomes harder), but the aromas and flavours also change.

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