Cheese 101

by Sarah Paxson What to buy―and how much―to create a delightful and delicious spread.

Select three to five cheeses, with approximately 1-2 ounces per person per cheese. Try to include a variety of textures and flavors, a cheese from each category. Most cheese belongs to one of four basic categories: aged, soft, firm, or blue.

Aged: Aged Cheddar, Goat Gouda Soft: Camembert Firm: Parmigiano-Reggiano, Manchego Blue: Gorgonzola, Valdeon

Cheese platters offer a great opportunity to try new things but don't be afraid to feauture at least one familiar cheese.

Cheese platters should always be served at room temperature to bring out the cheese's full flavor and texture, so take cheeses out of the fridge at least an hour before serving. Be sure to cut the cheese prior to a guest's arrival, to avoid awkward fumbling. Regular knives tend to cause goat and blue cheeses to crumble, so use a cheese wire. (If you don't have one, use dental floss!) When arranging the cheese on a cutting board, arrange them from mildest to strongest. This is done so that the strength of one cheese's flavor doesn't overpower the subtle flavors of another. And don't forget to write out labels so that you won't need to recite the names all evening!

Remember to provide a few simple accompaniments, such as fruits, nuts, chocolate, bread or crackers. Whatever is in season will have the best flavor, so use strawberries or blueberries in the summer and apples and pears in the fall and winter.

If you have leftovers, don't store the cheese in plastic wrap, which will make the cheese sweat and leave a plastic-y taste. Cheese needs to breathe, so wrap it in parchment or wax paper and keep in the fridge, usually the vegetable drawer.