Martha Stewart Living - - Everyday Food -

There are few things we love more than an abun­dance of creamy, crumbly, sharp, and stinky de­lights, ripe for the sam­pling. Let us count the ways: It can serve as the star of an ap­pe­tizer spread or, with a few fill­ing ad­di­tions, a laid-back meal. It al­lows you to mix- and-match fla­vors to suit ev­ery palate. And it’s easy to ex­e­cute with aplomb, ev­ery sin­gle time, if you keep these fac­tors in mind.

STIM­U­LATE TASTE BUDS Your se­lec­tions should in­clude dif­fer­ent ages, tex­tures, and types of milk (cow, goat, sheep). Rule of thumb: Cheeses that look dif­fer­ent usu­ally taste dif­fer­ent.

MIX TEX­TURES Select one fresh, smooth cheese, such as mild goat; and a but­tery one with a soft, ed­i­ble rind, like Brie or Camem­bert. Add one or two semi­hard or hard cheeses: Go for a milder one, like Gruyère or Manchego; or a dry, sharp va­ri­ety, such as Pecorino Ro­mano or Parmi­giano- Reg­giano. Then throw in a blue cheese (such as creamy Ro­que­fort or pun­gent Stil­ton) for good mea­sure.

LOOK FOR DIF­FER­ENT SHAPES For a dis­play that looks as tan­ta­liz­ing as it tastes, opt for one or two wedges, a small round, a wheel of cheese, and a pyra­mid. If you’re set­ting out mul­ti­ple wedges, cut them into dif­fer­ent- size hunks.

BUY THE RIGHT AMOUNT Aim for three to five va­ri­eties, or up to seven for a larger group. Plan on about 3 ½ ounces of cheese (to­tal) per guest, or one pound per five guests. If the cheese board is a main course, up the per- per­son amount to five ounces.

LET THEM WARM UP Most types of cheese will taste best af­ter rest­ing for about an hour at room tem­per­a­ture; softer ones (es­pe­cially fresh goat cheese) need about half that time.

SLICE RIGHT BE­FORE SERV­ING This pre­vents larger cheeses (wheels and blocks) from dry­ing out. Pro­vide a ta­ble knife or cheese spreader for each soft cheese, and sharper knives or slicers for harder va­ri­eties.

OF­FER LOTS OF DIF­FER­ENT BASES Sliced baguette and wa­ter crack­ers are clas­sics, but cros­tini, flat­breads, and rus­tic breads make things more in­ter­est­ing. It’s nice to of­fer gluten­free crack­ers or bread (and la­bel them as such), too.

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