A fine cheese plate offers a variety of types and textures of cheese, and to help you put them together, we have divided the world of Canadian cow's milk cheeses into four categories: soft, semisoft, firm/hard and blue cheeses.
Soft cheeses are generally creamy, fairly fresh and aged no longer than a few months. Most have edible soft rinds, which often add a strong dimension of flavour. Because of their runny texture, they require bread or crackers as a base.
Semisoft cheeses have soft rinds, with generally smooth and fairly soft – but not runny – interiors. Serve in one large piece, from which guests can cut morsels.
Firm/hard cheeses are aged for long periods to remove much of the moisture or are made from cooked and pressed curds. They can be sliced thinly, cut into cubes or broken up for serving.
Blue cheeses have been injected with – or, more rarely, naturally affected by – moulds, creating tasty blue striations. If you don't think you like blue cheese, you might be surprised at the variety available. They come in mild to strong flavours and creamy to crumbly textures, so there is sure to be something to please your palate.
Cheese plate complements
• Cheese and bread are, of course, a natural match, but the bread should not overpower the cheese. For most cheeses, choose a plain, crusty bread, such as baguette (French stick).
• Complement strong-flavoured blue cheeses with nut and fruit breads or whole-meal crackers.
• Rye bread pairs well with strong cheeses, such as very old Cheddar or raclette.
• Choose plain, white or whole-meal crackers, or simply flavoured ones, such as black-pepper or sesame crackers.
• Fresh fruit is always welcome to provide accents in taste and colour. Grapes go well with all cheeses, as do pears and apples – an especially good partner with blue cheese. Try fresh figs, strawberries or melon or peach slices.
• Put out some dried fruit – such as figs, apricots, dates or muscat or lexia raisins – as well as walnuts, hazelnuts or pecans (in the shell or shelled and unsalted).
• Chutneys and fruit preserves, especially plum and apricot, are good with sharp aged cheeses, hence the classic combination of chutney or fruit pickles with Cheddar in a ploughman's lunch.
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Putting out the ideal cheese plate
Create a cheese tray for a cocktail party or casual get-together. Or at a sit-down dinner, present a cheese plate after the main course before dessert or as dessert with a glass of sweet wine. Follow these tips.
• Serve at least three kinds, chosen from different categories.
• Vary types and strengths, and contrast colours and textures; for instance, a soft blue cheese (such as Borgonzola), a firm and drier aged Canadian provolone, and a semisoft, full-flavoured Oka Classique. Or combine a crumbly fiveyear- old Canadian Cheddar with a firm Ermite or Bleu Bénédictin and a rich creamy Canadian Brie.
• Some cheese plates can offer groups of one or two kinds; for example, sharp and fruity Geai Blue, and one of the mild soft blues, such as Bleubry.
• Always serve cheese at room temperature. Be sure to take it out of the refrigerator at least one hour before serving.
• Hard cheeses can share a knife or a cheese plane. Supply separate knives for each soft and semisoft cheese.
• For appetizer or after-dinner cheese plates of three to six selections, plan on 1 to 1-1/2 oz (30 to 50 g) of each type per person.
• For cheese plates served at the table, prepare individual plates for guests.
Pair your cheese plate with these great Test Kitchen recipes:
Oats and Whole Wheat Flatbread
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