That Cheese Plate is a column by Marissa Mullen—cookbook author, photographer, and Food52's Resident Cheese Plater. With Marissa's expertise all things cheddar, comté, and crudité—plus tips for how to make it all look extra special, using stuff you probably have on hand—we'll be crafting our own cheesy masterpieces without a hitch.
Like many of you, I’ve been cooking a lot more than usual these days. Dare I say I may be experiencing some cooking burnout? Sometimes you just want to take it easy and throw together a simple dish from your fridge. Enter: a single-serving cheese plate.
I love a good cheese plate. The endless pairings, vibrant colors, and easy no-cook assembly crowns them the most versatile appetizer. In fact, I love cheese plates so much that I started an Instagram account on them back in 2013, which has grown into a community of cheese lovers from across the globe. From there, I created the Cheese By Numbers method, illustrating how to build a board, step-by-step.
With Cheese By Numbers, we break the cheese plate down into the following categories: Cheese, meat, produce, crunch, dip, and garnish. If you open up the pantry or fridge, I’m sure you have something to fall under one of these categories.
I love incorporating a variety of flavors and textures on my cheese plates to make them a bit more interesting. For me, making a plate is almost a form of meditation. You take the time to deliberately prep your items, forcing you to slow down and reflect in the present moment. It’s a medium for your creativity to shine!
1. The Foundation
We need a solid foundation for our cheese plate, and any flat surface does the trick. I’ve used cutting boards, dinner plates, cookie trays—the opportunities are endless. Last week I came across some small plates that I learned were actually potholders for houseplants (really, anything can be a cheese plate!) I knew I had to turn them into “That Social Distancing Snack Plate” for my roommate and me.
2. The Cheese
While crafting the perfect plate, you want to incorporate a variety of cheese styles. This can be hard and soft, cow’s milk and goat’s milk, or mild and stinky. On this plate, I tried my best to work with what I had in my kitchen—nothing too fancy, nothing too advanced. I used a French Brie and sharp cheddar.
The Brie on the plate brings a mellow, creamy vibe, followed by subtle tones of fresh mushrooms and butter. While French Brie is always a great choice, some of my favorite American-made Brie-style cheese are Marin French Cheese Triple Cream Brie and Cowgirl Creamery's Mt. Tam. The sharp cheddar on this plate brings a hard and crumbly texture, with notes of hazelnut, earthy hay, and browned butter. Some favorites include Jasper Hill Cabot Clothbound, Hooks 5-Year Cheddar, and Montgomery’s Cheddar.
It’s also important to pre-cut your cheese. I sliced the brie in a triangle wedge and cut the cheddar into small chunks. This ensures for easy grazing!
3. The Meat
Next, I added my signature Salami River. The Salami River acts as a stylistic focal point on a cheese board. On my cheese plate for one, I folded some sweet Soppressata to span from one side of the ceramic plate to the other end of the second plate. Meat and cheese are a great pairing, complimenting each other with their savory and fatty tasting notes. You can also use prosciutto, chorizo, jamon, capocollo, bresaola, even deli turkey or sautéed chicken sausage! If you want to skip the meat, you can always make a cucumber river, providing the same visual effect.
4. The Produce
Now that we’ve completed the first few steps in the Cheese By Numbers Method, it’s time for the next one, produce. Fresh fruit and veggies are a refreshing addition to a cheese board, especially in the summertime. I also love using briny items like olives and cornichons to add some tangy notes on the plate.
It’s always fun to dress up your veggies a bit, too on this plate, I used a vegetable peeler to create cucumber curls, and dressed them with some olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. I then added some Castelvetrano olives to the other side of the salami river, balancing out the colors and flavors.
5. The Crunch
Now that our cheese plate is coming together, we can fill in the rest of the gaps with the crunch! I personally like my plates to look full and abundant. You can fit so much more food on the plate by layering and stacking. I added a “cracker stack” to get the plate started, but always serve extra crackers on the side. I also sprinkled in some rosemary Marcona almonds for a savory crunch.
6. The Dip
Since these plates are personal-sized, I skipped adding a dip directly on the plate. (PS: Think you don’t have a dip on hand? Pair your cheese with honey or a fruit jam!) But if I were to add a dip, I would serve some fig jam on the side, or—one of my favorites—this Blueberry Lemon Basil Jam from Trade Street Jam Co. The sweetness of the blueberry contrasts the saltiness of the cheese, while the lemon ties into the tanginess of the marinated cucumbers.
7. The Garnish
Last but not least, garnish! This is the step that really makes you feel like you’re painting a picture with your snack board. I’ve been lucky enough to grow my own garden this year, so I added some fresh lavender, alpine strawberry flowers, and thyme. Fresh herbs are always a great garnish, as well as colorful flowers—just make sure they’re edible!
You did it! No need to clean a mound of dirty pots and pans or fear that you’ll mess up a recipe. Now that your social distance snack plate is complete, pop open some rosé and enjoy the summer evening.