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say cheese  
how to put together a cheese plate 

by Yee-Fan Sun 
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For those of you for whom cooking essentially means hitting the start button on your microwave, the notion of putting together an elegant and tasty party spread based on your meager culinary talents might be enough to make you think you should leave the party hosting to other folks. But before you start twiddling your thumbs as you wait for someone else's party invitation or for your cooking skills to improve, I offer two little words of advice. Cheese. Plate. 

This grown-up party staple is always popular, ever stylish, and best of all, absolutely easy to prepare. So even those of you who get a panic attack at the mere idea of using that big heating appliance in your kitchen can rest assured that you can have a few folks over for a shindig, and provide your guests with some proper hors-d'oeuvres. Just check out our handy guide…

where to get your cheese
If you're serving a small crowd, if you're buying for a very special occasion, or if money's just burning a great big hole in your pocket and the sky's the limit when it comes to budget, there's no question about it: the best place to go shopping for cheeses is a specialist cheese shop. You'll find the greatest variety and the best quality; moreover, you can rest assured that if you seek assistance from the guy behind the counter, he'll be able to tell answer your question in full, and then some. Best of all, a good cheesemonger should be more than happy to offer you a sample of any cheese you're interested in, provided the cheese can be sold in a cut portion rather than as a whole. You'll probably pay more at a specialty cheese store, but the expertise you'll find there as well as the irresistible opportunity for a free taste can make it well worth making a stop as you prep for your fete.

Still, for most of us, budget concerns probably are an issue. If you don't want to blow the entirety of your party funds on cheese, you may be better off avoiding temptation and going the chain grocery store route. If you live near a Trader Joe's, you're in luck; you'll find very good deals on a wide array of decent specialty cheeses that your regular supermarket just won't stock. Discount grocery stores -- the kind that offer overstock, off-season and weird regional food stuffs for way cheaper than at a regular shop -- can also be a good source, although you'll want to unwrap your cheeses once you get them home and give them the ol' touch and sniff test before setting them out for guests.

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