Whether served before a main meal or as the meal itself, a well-curated cheese plate showcases local flavors and becomes extra special when it features homemade components.
Designing a cornucopian cheese board to celebrate the start of a festive dinner can be a most creative and satisfying endeavor. At its simplest, the cheese plate is a humble gift before the main course unfolds. Or it can be the meal itself. On many occasions with friends, with a replete cheese plate in front of us, cups of cider in hand, and a crusty loaf at the ready, our shared thought was, “This is all we need!”
Assembly of a celebratory cheese course depends upon the creative tenor of the maker and can tell a story of place, seasons, and the flavors of your region. These words are meant to inspire you to tell your own story about the “taste of place,” known to the French as terroir. Find a wooden cutting board as your empty canvas, then pick and choose from the list — and some of our favorite recipes for rounding out your spread — below.
Fresh cheeses mixed with chopped herbs or drizzled with cider syrup (homemade or purchased online or from specialty retailers) — or both. If you’re feeling inspired to try cheese making for yourself, give our Farmer’s Cheese a try (recipe included below).
Mild and strong cheeses to suit all palates, include mild cheeses along with aged or more pungent cheeses.
Milk varieties, such as goat, sheep, and cow milk cheeses.
Fruit, including sliced and whole fresh fruit or berries in season. Try strawberries, figs, blackberries, raspberries, apples, or pears. Alternatively, serve dried fruit: apples, figs, apricots, or cherries work well.
Vegetables, whole or thinly sliced, such as watermelon radishes, celery, or bunched carrots, for scooping up savory spreads and cheeses.
Savory sides to accompany the cheeses and fruit. Try something salty or sharp, like olives and pickles. For a savory dip worthy of any cheese plate, try our recipe for Roasted Eggplant with Tahini and Cider Syrup (included below).
Sweet counterpoints like hot pepper jelly, honey, or membrillo. Our recipe for Apple & Yellow Beet Jam (included below) is a simple and simply delicious companion to cheese, and any leftovers are delightful on a grilled cheese sandwich.
Cured meats and fish such as salami, ham, coppa, prosciutto, speck, cured salmon or trout, and fish rillettes.
Smoked accompaniments like cheese, meat, fish, nuts, or eggs.
Nuts that are fresh, roasted, candied, or smoked, such as walnuts, almonds, or pecans.
Edible flowers, such as nasturtiums, calendulas, borage, marigolds, or fennel blossoms.
Crackers and a variety of sliced breads.
Farmer’s Cheese with Cider Syrup
What is notable about this cheese is how it transforms with different additions: mix in freshly chopped chives or rosemary, drizzle it with honey, spoon sweet or spicy jams on top, or do what we love — add a generous drizzle of cider syrup. This recipe can be enjoyed on the same day that you make it, but it’s even better the next.
Makes 1 pound
- ½ gallon whole milk
- 1 cup active-culture buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon cider vinegar, plus more as needed
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon crème fraîche (optional)
- Chopped fresh chives or rosemary (optional)
- Cider syrup, for drizzling
- Pour the milk into a saucepan over low heat. Heat to 175°F (80°C), stirring occasionally to make sure the milk does not burn.
- Turn off the heat and gently stir in the buttermilk, lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon of vinegar. The curds should separate in about 10 seconds. If they don’t, add a little more vinegar — a teaspoon at a time — and stir. Let the milk rest for 10 to 15 minutes while it curdles.
- Place a colander over a large saucepan and line it with four layers of cheesecloth (or glass cloth, in a pinch). Gently remove the curds with a large spoon or ladle and place on top of the cloth. The whey will drain into the pan. Save the whey for other uses (see note).
- Gather the cheesecloth around the curds and tie it with a piece of string. You will now have a ball of curds wrapped in a neat cloth package. Hang the ball from a wooden spoon over the saucepan to drain for a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator. The more whey you allow to drip out, the better.
- Unwrap the drained cheese and place it in a stainless steel mixing bowl. Stir in the salt, the crème fraîche (which will make the cheese richer and creamier), and chopped herbs, if using. Wrap the cheese back in the cheesecloth to form a firm ball, or set it in a cheese mold with a weight on it (the cheese will take the form of what it rests in). Refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Unwrap the cheese and set it on a small plate. Drizzle with cider syrup and serve.
Don’t throw away the whey! It is full of nutrients and can be used in smoothies, breads, and cakes and for soaking beans, or to make ricotta cheese. Most animals — including cats, dogs, pigs, and even chickens — love whey, too.
Apple & Yellow Beet Jam
We love this savory, sweet-and-sour condiment as an accompaniment to cheese.
Makes about 1 pint
- 1 pound yellow beets
- 1 apple, peeled, cored, and grated
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup cider vinegar
- ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Fill a pot with water and set it over high heat. Bring to a simmer, and then add the beets and enough extra water to cover them, if necessary. Cover the pot and simmer until the beets are fork-tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the beets cool until you can comfortably handle them. Peel and grate.
- Combine the beets, apple, sugar, water, vinegar, and lemon juice in a medium saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil.
- Lower the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, until the juice is nearly all cooked off and the apples and beets become thick, about 45 minutes.
- Spoon the jam into a clean glass jar and store in the refrigerator. It will last for several weeks.
Roasted Eggplant with Tahini & Cider Syrup
Some of our Israeli customers — both those living in the United States and those in Tel Aviv — tell us that they love to use cider syrup as a replacement for pomegranate syrup in many recipes. This recipe was inspired by them! Both syrups are sweet and full of tangy acidity while presenting robust fruitiness.
Makes approximately 2 cups
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1 large eggplant
- ¼ cup tahini
- 2 tablespoons cider syrup, plus more for drizzling
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ cup chopped fresh mint or parsley
- Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then oil the parchment.
- Slice the eggplant in half lengthwise and place it flat side down on the sheet pan. Slide into the oven and roast for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the flesh is completely soft and the skin is caving in and blistered by the heat. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
- When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, scrape out all of its flesh with a spoon and place in the bowl of a food processor or a large mortar. Add the olive oil, tahini, syrup, garlic, and salt. Purée or grind with the pestle until smooth.
- Spoon the eggplant mixture into a serving bowl, drizzle with a little more olive oil and syrup, then sprinkle the mint on top.