6 Steps for Making the Perfect Cheese Plate
I love me a good plate of sliced cheeses and meats, but when I’d try to put my own together, it’d end up looking like a sad adult version of Lunchables: cubes of processed cheddar, a couple of Ritz crackers, maybe some precut celery sticks if I was feeling “healthy.”
I jumped on the chance to attend a cheese plate workshop hosted by Marissa Mullen, the creator of the That Cheese Plate and Cheese by Numbers Instagram accounts. She explained how she used to work in the music industry, and creating elaborate cheese plates in her hotel room was a source of comfort during late nights on the road.
Mullen has created hundreds of beautifully crafted cheese plates and it turns out, there is a science to charcuterie design. Thanks to her workshop, I learned to make a mean snack board, and now I am invited to way more parties. Here are six steps needed to make a cheese plate your friends will love.
The star of the show sets the tone for the rest of the setup. Mullen explained that two to three kinds of cheese works well on a medium-size board. She prefers to place these diagonally from each other, usually in the corners to anchor the rest of the ingredients.
Cheese pairings do exist, but shouldn’t limit you from the kind of cheeses you’d like to use. She does advise choosing at least one hard cheese, like cheddar or Parmesan, and one soft cheese, like brie or goat cheese, to keep the tastes varied.
Dicing or slicing cheese makes it easy for your guests to casually graze, but for a bigger visual impact, feel free to cut a wedge or leave a block of whole cheese and let guests choose the size they’d like.
Mullen used the term “salami river,” which is what happens when you take a piece of salami and fold it in half once, then in half again, to create a small ribbon-like shape. We folded several pieces of salami this way and then squeezed them together to create the ripply, river effect.
It’s way cooler than just leaving the meats layered flat on top of each other, and it creates a nice border between accoutrements. Salami and pepperoni work the best, but you can basically use any kind of sliced meat — prosciutto, thick-cut ham, or turkey are other ideas.
3Fruits and Veggies
This step is where you can get really creative, since produce comes in a variety of shapes, colors, and textures. Fresh berries add a beautiful deepness to a cheese plate, while tomatoes, olives, and cornichons (tiny pickles) are easy to grab. But here, you can let your imagination run wild, depending on the kind of vibe you’re going for.
Mullen likes to mix fresh fruit with dried fruit as well, like dried cranberries, figs, and apricots. These traditionally pair well with cheese but also make a nice contrast on a plate.
Make tiny piles of product on your board, some to hold up the salami river, while others can be next to cheese for pairings, or just on their own.
Mullen likes to balance her flavors with a chance to experience many flavors at once. Nuts, either sweet or salty, work really well, and easily fill in smaller gaps on the board. For crackers, Mullen likes to take long ones like sesame thins, snap them in half crosswise, and stand them up lengthwise in small groups of four or six, to again add depth and shape on the plate.
If you're creating a plate for a holiday, Mullen noted that this is where you can add more nontraditional cheese plate elements, too, like chocolate and candy for Halloween or Easter.
This part isn’t always necessary, depending on the flavors you’re using, but it can be a nice touch. A small jar or ramekin with jam, mustard, seasoned oil, hummus, or honey that guests can dip into with a tiny spoon can go anywhere on the plate, but since there’s enough variety on the board you’ve already built, stick to one dip or spread to feature.
This was my favorite part of the workshop, because it was a small addition that made a big impact. Mullen explained how to use fresh herbs as the final fill-in component for a cheese plate. She took sprigs of rosemary and thyme, broke them into smaller pieces, and stuck them in areas to create tiny divisions, or just fill in awkward spaces.
We also used a variety of edible flowers, sprinkled around the plate, which added beautiful color and pulled it all together. Mullen stated that everything on the plate should be edible, so try to avoid using nonedible plants or accessories if you can help it.
7The Bottom Line
My sad adult Lunchables days are behind me, and it’s all thanks to this six-step plan. I sometimes make a plate for myself to enjoy during a movie or as a lighter, filling meal after work. Constructing a cheese plate isn’t totally easy, but Mullen’s method is a foolproof way to build a great one and impress your friends and family.