Cheese Please! Selecting Cheese for the Perfect Cheese Platter

Written by Chef Kevin Morris, Abuso Catering Co., one of our Museum’s exclusive caterers.

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Cheese platers have been around for ages, and are a great staple to have whether at a formal event, or a casual gathering at your home. But with so many options how to you make a cheese plater everyone will remember?

Try to include a variety of textures and flavors. Most cheese belongs to one of four basic categories: aged, soft, firm, or blue. For a good variety, choose at least one from each group.

aged cheeseAged: Aged Cheddar, Comte, Goat Gouda

soft cheese

Soft: June’s Joy, Triple Cream Brie from Cowgirl Creamery, Cremont

Heap of diced semi-firm cheese on plate

Firm: Manchego, Texas Gold Cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano

blue cheese

Blue: Gorgonzola Dolce, Buttermilk Blue, Red Rock, Stilton

You can also try selecting cheeses by the type of milk used (cow, goat, sheep). This will ensure a range of different flavors on the plate. Also be sure to serve at least one very interesting cheese like Barely Buzzed (Cheddar rubbed with a mix of ground coffee beans and French Lavender.

How Much Is Enough?
It really depends on the event. For display during cocktail hour, use 1 to 2 ounces of cheese per guest. If I am doing a party where the cheese display is the star, I use about 3 to 4 ounces of cheese per guest. If you are going to bring a cheese platter to a pot-luck style party, then you should be safe bringing 1 to 2 ounces per guest.

cheese 2Accompaniments
Offer a selection of breads, including sliced baguette, bread sticks, and crackers in all different shapes and sizes. It’s a good idea to vary taste and texture among the breads as well as the cheeses. (I personally like to toast or grill some sliced baguette)

Jarred condiments and vegetables are quick and fuss-free. Try sweet fig preserves or honey, tart chutneys, and spicy mustards. You can also add artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, and caponata. If you have a bit more time, prepare caramelized onions, which complement most cheese plates (I make this great cherry tomato jam that I like to put out with my cheese displays). One thing you could try is infusing the honey with interesting flavors like thyme, lavender, or even ancho chili.

Various other sweet and salty items are also great additions. Try cured meats such as prosciutto and salami, or candied nuts and pistachios. I like to use Marcona almonds, which I season with fresh herbs and olive oil. Assorted seasonal and dried fruits can include figs, cherries, apples, berries, melons and pears. I use fruit to make garnishes for my trays and displays as well.

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Serving Tips

  • Set out a separate knife for each cheese, especially the soft varieties. Soft cheese spreads well with a butter knife; firm cheese might require a paring knife; and aged cheese often requires a cheese plane. We all have that set of cheese knives that someone gave us – you just need to find it in the closet.
  • Remove the cheese from the refrigerator an hour before serving―cold mutes flavor.
  • Spread out the displays. Place the cheese platters and the other nibbles on several tables to avoid guest gridlock.
  • Label each cheese so you won’t need to recite the names all evening. If you like, also jot down a few poetic adjectives describing its flavor.
  • When I need cheese for my clients I always call Houston DairyMaids. They can help you with your next cheese tray.

Good Luck and Happy Eating!

Our exclusive full-service caterers are trained in the policies and procedures of the Museum – making your event-planning process effortless. Each caterer is full-service and can customize your event to meet your specific needs. Learn more…

Educator How-To: Cross-curricular Education Gets Cheesy

As educators, we all want students to understand the world holistically, but we still tend to teach each subject independent from all other subjects. Food is an effective way to capture the attention of students and provide a useful tool for creating a more global and cross-curricular learning environment. This global approach to learning has been shown to produce deeper understanding of the concepts being taught.

Making cheese, which seems on its face to be a fun break or a supplemental activity, can be used to discover important concepts and ideas that span an entire range of subjects.  These subjects include, but are not limited to, chemistry, history, and geography. Hands-on learning activities help to create interest and to create better retention of learned material.cheese meme

In that spirit, try one of my favorite activities. I use this activity at the Houston Museum of Natural Science to make learning and discovery memorable. It is a culminating activity for my Iron Age lab. It’s simple, affordable, and the kids love it! Why not give it a try?

A Little Bite of Cheesy History

Milk has been a major source of nutrition from the earliest of times. Milk is full of protein, fat, calcium and other important vitamins and minerals. It just so happens that it’s also full of water and sugars, which have no real nutritional value and cause the milk to spoil quickly without refrigeration. With the invention of cheese, man found an ingenious way to prolong the shelf-life of milk.

Because bacteria love a moist and nutrient-rich environment, milk spoils easily. In antiquity, there was no refrigeration, so unless it was cold outside, fresh milk could not be saved from day to day. No one knows how, but our ancestors figured out the trick to preserving milk. They discovered that calves have a substance called rennet in their stomachs that separates the milk solids and fats from the water in the milk they suckle from their mothers. We know that animal stomachs were used to transport and hold liquid, so it’s possible the milk turning to curds and whey was a fortuitous accidental discovery.

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Goat stomach still used to make cheese in Sardinia. Photo by Ivano Atzori.

The first cheesemakers found that if they added some rennet to fresh milk, it would soon separate into two separate parts. We call these two parts the curds (where the good stuff is) and whey (mostly made up of water and some sugars). They learned that they could extract even more moisture from the curds if they cut them up and added salt to them, which also had the benefit of adding flavor to the cheese. Heating and pressing were also used to expel additional liquid from the curds. If left to age, molds and bacteria colonized the cheese, making it even more tasty! Thus was born an easy-to-make, non-perishable, transportable food for everyone!

Tasty Science: Make Your Own Ricotta!

Let’s get started! Here’s what you need:

  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar
  • Measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • Pots
  • Hot plates (or a stove)
  • Mixing spoons
  • Large bowls
  • Sieves
  • Cheesecloth
  • Water
  • Paper towels

First, set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen two layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth. Next, pour the milk and cream into a pot and stir in the salt.

Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Then, turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for one minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

Pour the mixture of curds and whey into the cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta.

Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth and any remaining whey. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for four to five days.

This is a basic but tasty cheese and anyone can be successful in making it. If you decide to incorporate this activity into your classroom, please share your “cheesy” pictures with HMNS on Facebook or Instagram under the hashtag #HMNS. 

Science Friday! Cheese: Not The Same Mold Story

We’re very excited to bring you this weekly feature – Science Friday, a science talk show produced by NPR. Each week, a new video takes on a different on science topic, in an effort to bring an educated, balanced discussion to bear on the scientific issues at hand.This week, SciFri investigates the secret life of cheese. They visited Hendricks Farms and Dairy in Telford, PA–home to award-winning cheese-maker Trent Hendricks. He walks us through how he makes a hybrid cheese he calls cheddar blue.


Credits: Photography by Annette Heist and Flora Lichtman. Produced by Flora Lichtman