A Simple Summer Cheese Plate + 5 Cheese Plate Tips

summer picnic

Because picnics can happen year round here in San Francisco, people can really get into it. I once was invited to a picnic that was so high brow, I felt kind of embarrassed pulling out my tubberware with strawberries and cans of warm seltzer. I hadn’t gotten the memo! They had this incredible cheese plate that was something you’d serve at a nice dinner party. It did seem like a lot of work, all the carefully prepared foods arranged so deliberately and delicately (they were lucky it wasn’t windy!). It was really amazing but it made me wonder about the possibility of making an outdoor cheese plate fancy, but will little or no preparation. So today I’m sharing an idea for a fancy but easy summer cheese plate in partnership with Blue Diamond Almonds and their classic roasted salted almonds.  No prep will need to be done beforehand, just a stop at the local market and a handful of wild flowers found on the way.

And as a special treat, I asked my friend Kiri from The Cheese School of San Francisco (one of my favorite venus for parties) to share with us some easy tips for putting a cheese plate together for any occasion.

Keep reading to see read the tips…

1. Timing Is Everything: Make your selection on when you plan to serve the cheese. If you’re entertaining in the afternoon or this is an appetizer, go lighter. To open up your guests’ palates start with a fresh or young cheese, like creamy burrata or a wrinkly-rinded, young goat cheese.  If you’re hosting a cocktail party, go for something bolder, but not so bold it will clash with your cocktails or wines. A farmhouse cheddar, a special pecorino, or a hearty Alpine such as Comté are all versatile pairing cheeses that are universally loved. For dessert go for something dazzling, like a rich, creamy blue, an indulgent triple crème, or a deliciously stinky washed rind. Serve your super stars with something sweet like milk chocolate, rose petal jam, or preserved cherries in syrup.

summer cheese plate

2. Quality Over Quantity: Stick to one to three cheeses when entertaining at home. While it’s tempting to offer more variety in four or five cheese, it diminishes the gesture by intermixing too many flavors and small pieces. Go dramatic with a big ol’ hunk of something you just love. A pound of a great Alpine cheese looks fabulous at a party and will run you $15-25. Impress an intimate gathering of friends with your decisiveness by serving a whole wheel of a smaller format cheese like Mt. Tam (we choose that one!) or Winnimere.

3. Give them a clue. Some guests are shy to take the first bite, others destroy your carefully crafted display in one fell swoop of the cheese knife. Chunk bite-sized nuggets of cheese out of a wedge of aged gouda, cut out a single serving of camembert and lay the piece next to or on top of the wheel, cut a few triangles (from rind to center) from a piece of Manchego. Illustrating how to cut and eat the cheese is less intimidating for the shy folks and signals to cheese hogs what an appropriate portion looks like.

summer cheese plate

4. What and how much? Serve 1-3 cheeses for a small gathering; 3-5 for a larger party. Simply select a cheese you love, and another your guests will love. Mix milks, ages, textures, colors, and flavors for an overall interesting experience.

5. Preparation.  Allow cheeses to get to room temperature by taking them out of the fridge at least one hour ahead of serving and provide one knife per cheese. Pair cheese with dried fruit, nuts (like these Roasted Salted Blue Diamond Almonds we used that everyone loves), a preserve, even milk chocolate and dress up your platter with herbs, fresh fruit, and flowers.

PS If you haven’t noticed, I’m a big fan of cheese plates! Here are some ideas for a kid friendly cheese plate, a July 4th version and a DIY slate cheeseboard  you can make for $3

Thanks to Blue Diamond Almonds for sponsoring this post. Photography by Liz Stanley. Assisted by Sarah Iveson


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