Save the Cheese Plate

This week’s menu has been, so far, a revisiting of the most recent additions to our family’s dinner canon. I haven’t been able to get enough Baked Shrimp in Tomato Feta Sauce, and my Inside-Out Chicken Cordon Bleu has become a weekly meal. Mr. P made pork chops sautéed with red onions and white rice a few days ago, and while we’ve been going to bed happy every night, I have nothing new to show for myself.

However, I’ve been meaning to address an item that gets frustratingly little coverage, one that offers comfort and solace to so many in the midst of social insecurity and anxiety, and one that graces 80% of parties, receptions, cocktail hours, cookouts, and holiday dinners: the cheese plate. While there’s nothing wrong with some sliced block cheddar, a sleeve of Ritz crackers, and an open container of pub cheese, I think we can do a little better than that. First, it’s imperative to understand that while cheese holds the platterial scepter, its magnificence is best showcased when supported by an entourage of meats, grains, and fruits.

Never forget that this is the cheese’s show. The selection should offer several representatives of varying textures, tastes and colors. My standard assortment includes first and foremost a springy yet creamy Muenster, a soft and room temperature Brie or Camembert, an extra sharp Cheddar, some Pepper Jack, and the occasional log of goat cheese. A honey-drizzled, pecan-studded baked Brie served with thickly sliced warm baguette rounds is a mouthwatering indulgence for Winter spreads, and for a cuisine-specific event (i.e. Greek, Provençal), you of course want to present only cheeses from the celebrated country or region.

The supporting accouterments should be tailored specifically to the elected cheeses’ cumulative personality. I generally outift my previously detailed fromage coalition with several kinds of crackers (water, stone wafer, butter, melba), as well as thin slices of pepperoni, seedless red grapes and sweet midget gerkins. For large groups, I take advantage of the opportunity to omit the expected vegetable wheel by (lightly) garnishing the cheese plate further with cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, and snow peas or slices of green bell peppers.

The possibilities for accessorizing your cheese are endless, and you can find inspiration throughout your grocery store, at the dried nuts and fruits bins, among the berries and tropical fruits, and in the bizarre and wonderful pickled section. Watermelon rind is a favorite of my lovely mother, Mrs. S, in spite of her coolness toward the fruit as a whole, and I find it to be an excellent palate cleanser.

I hope I haven’t given the impression that I’m above spray-cheese on Wheatables for the occasional late night witnessesless snack. But for the company, let’s forgo nozzles and jazz things up a little. Just remember to start with the cheese and then build its staff; otherwise, it isn’t really a cheese plate.

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