A cheese plate is an easy way to impress a crowd with very little effort. And it’s great fun to get out your largest serving tray and build a custom mix-and-match medley of finger foods.
That’s how I usually do New Year’s Eve, the wide variety of morsels a good fit for the grazing that happens from dinnertime till midnight. Plus, cheese goes great with bubbly.
Here are my recommendations for building a low-key yet delicious cheese plate you can put together quickly for New Year’s Eve noshing.
Normally, like for a Wednesday night cheese plate, I go pretty basic, opting for cheeses I like to eat on the regular and may even have in my fridge, like cheddar or goat. But for a special occasion, consider stopping at your local specialty market, like the vast cheese room at Mazzaro’s in St. Petersburg, and pick up something fancy. Stick to these general cheese categories: something sharp and firm (cheddar, asiago, parmigiano-reggiano), something lush and creamy (brie), and something tangy or a little stinky (goat, blue). Plan to have at least three options on your plate; you cannot have too many.
Walnuts, pecan, almonds — they all work beautifully as cheese accompaniments. You could certainly serve them raw on the platter, but I like to punch mine up with a little something extra. Add about 1 cup to a skillet set over medium heat, and toast for about 5 minutes, shaking the pan a couple of times. Add 2 tablespoons of maple syrup and 1 tablespoon olive oil, and stir to coat. Remove from heat and add to a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon paprika and a pinch of black pepper. Stir or shake the nuts to coat them thoroughly with spices. Let cool slightly, then serve.
Fruits and jams
A swipe of jam, a handful of grapes, some dried cranberries — or, make the fruit compote below for something both fruity and a touch spicy.
Mustard and pickles
We’ve got the sweet and salty covered, now we need something vinegary. Place a big dollop of your preferred mustard (I like the whole-grain kind with mustard seeds in it) on the plate for swiping, and add any pickled veggie for crunch.
Bread or crackers
A cheese plate must, serve something crunchy and something softer on your platter. Try water crackers, which are thin and plain-tasting and perfect for loading with cheese and more, and a thinly sliced baguette. Plan on having twice as much as you think you need; the carbs always go fast.