Few foods are so versatile that they are as appropriate for small, casual gatherings as they are for the most extravagant dinner engagements. Cheese tops that short list. Cheese is common and familiar enough to call a comfort food, while still luxurious enough to impress and spoil your guests. You don't need to hire a caterer for gourmet party appetizers. You can put together a cheese board or party platter in minutes and it's sure to be a hit.
Select a board to present your cheese, such as a wooden cheese or cutting board, or a marble pastry board, if you want your tray to have a charming, rustic look. If you prefer, you can use a lovely serving platter or tray for a decadent presentation.
Select three to six kinds of cheeses, depending upon how many guests you are serving. Choose at least one soft cheese, such as brie or Camembert, or a spread such as port wine. Select at least one semi-soft cheese, such as Taleggio or Edam. Serve at least one hard cheese, such as a sharp cheddar, Parmigiano Reggiano or Gruyere. Suitable additions are a crumbly cheese, such as blue or feta, and flavored cheeses in shapes such as logs.
Get a separate cutting board to work on to prepare your cheese so you don't make your serving board look messy. Slice hard and semi-soft cheeses into cubes or slices. Slice soft cheeses into wedges. Break very hard cheeses or cheeses that crumble into rustic chunks with a fork or cheese knife. Slip the knife into the cheese and pull so it breaks off for a natural and very appetizing bite-sized piece.
Arrange your cheese on your serving board or platter, spacing it out slightly so each one has its own space. Place soft cheese wedges on the platter. Transfer any container cheese spreads too soft to stand on a small plate or bowl. Leave cheese logs whole. Pile bite-size chunks or slices of hard and semi-soft cheese into small mounds.
Choose some foods to offer with your cheese. These not only can help compliment the flavor of some cheeses, but also garnish the platter. A small bunch of grapes, some dried apricots, fig jam or chutney are all lovely choices. Pick an assortment of bread to offer with cheeses as well, such as crackers, thin-sliced french bread or nut breads.
Add fruits, spreads, crackers or bread around the cheeses on the board or platter. Place toothpicks or cheese tongs out so that guests can serve themselves hard and semi-soft cheeses. Put out spread knives for soft cheeses, cheese spreads or fruit spreads.
Label your cheese if your friends are serious connoisseurs, or if you think they'll be interested in the types of cheese you are presenting. One option is to get cheese markers, which are similar to plant markers. You write the type of cheese on the marker and then stick it into the cheese wedge, chunk or pile. Alternatively, you can write the names on small place cards and stand them on the board in front of the appropriate cheese.