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say cheese how to put together a cheese plate by Yee-Fan Sun | 1 2 3 4
continued from page 1

choosing your cheeses
To make your cheese board feel like a proper spread, you'll need between three to five types of cheese. Anything less, really, is just a hunk or two of cheese slapped onto a plate, and anything more will likely confuse your friends with the overabundance of options.

When you're first venturing into the world of fine cheeses, keep things simple for yourself. Choose three cheeses that each offer something a little different, to appeal to as many different folks' tastebuds as possible. You'll want cheeses that differ in strength, flavor and consistency; try for a variety in height, color and shape as well, to make for a more visually appealing platter. For extra brownie points, you might also theme your cheese plate by sticking with cheeses from a specific region of the world, although this will probably require access to a cheese purveyor that's a step up from your local supermarket chain store.

a very basic cheese plate These cheeses can be picked up at any supermarket, and offer good broad appeal for people who like their cheeses fairly simple:

• wedge of brie
• wheel of smoked gouda (firm, medium-flavored and, well, smoky)
• chunk of Danish blue (semi-soft, tangy) or log of fresh goat cheese

a french cheese plate
• wheel of Camembert
• fat wedge of Morbier (semi-soft, nutty, strength varies from medium to fairly strong)
• round of Bucheron (goat's cheese, creamy soft and tangy)

But what's that you say? Your knowledge of cheese thus far starts at those processed American cheese slices and ends with supermarket brand Monterey Jack? Never fear… here's a guide to some of the most common cheeses you're likely to encounter as you begin to expand your cheese horizons:

  • Soft: When properly ripe, soft cheeses ooze out of their (edible) rind. The most common examples are brie (French, buttery and mild, perfect for the cheese-shy) and camembert (like brie, but slightly stronger, earthier flavor). For something a little different, try taleggio (Italian, fruity and strong).
  • Semi-soft: These cheeses have soft rinds with soft interiors, but they hold their shape when cut. Semi-soft cheeses include Muenster (French and German, strong), Fontina (Italian, nutty and slightly sweet), and Havarti (Denmark, smooth and mild).
  • Semi-hard: Semi-hard cheeses are firm but still fairly moist inside their waxy inedible rind, and include cheddar (produced pretty much all over the English-speaking world, nutty flavored with strength running the whole gamut) and Gouda (Netherlands, mild-to-medium and slightly sweet).
  • Hard: These cheeses generally have an inedible rind and a dry, crumbly interior that can be broken into bite-size chunks. Favorites include Parmigiano Reggiano (Italian, crumbly and with a distinctive bite) and Manchego (Spain, mild and nutty).
  • Goat's cheese: Cheese made from goat's milk tends to be soft (though there are semi-hard varieties) with a slight tanginess. At your friendly neighborhood supermarket, you're most likely to find the commercially-produced Montrachet (creamy and mildly tangy).
  • Blue: The veiny bits in blue cheeses are produced when cheese is injected with mold. While this may sound less than appetizing in concept, the results can be amazingly tasty, producing cheeses with a fantastic complexity of flavors and a pronounced tang. A few blue cheeses you might encounter: Gorgonzola (Italian, sweet and creamy), Stilton (English, firm and relatively mild), Roquefort (French, firm and piquant), Maytag Blue (American, crumbly and pungent), Danish blue (Denmark, mild and creamy).

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