Cheese plates are popular for many reasons: They require no cooking, look festive and elegant, their DIY nature caters to picky eaters and cheese is a much-loved conversation starter, an expression of local terroir.
While local cheese is always in season, your winter cheese board will look and taste a bit different from summer’s. The cheeses themselves might vary in flavor based on the animal’s seasonal diet—cow milk is richer and fattier in winter, when they’re eating hay rather than grazing on fresh grass. And when local orchard fruit and berries are scarce, you’ll need to be creative with your accompaniments. But with a little care and attention at the shop, your winter cheese plate can be a showstopper.
It need not be complex. For a small gathering, you might go the minimalist route and buy one beautiful bloomy-rind cheese and serve with a little pot of fruit mostarda, a pile of hothouse arugula and a spoon. To feed more people, choose three to five cheeses with a variety of textures (unctuous, crumbly, semisoft) and milks (cow, sheep, goat). Aim to balance the platter as you would a salad, cutting richness with acidity, pairing peppery with sweet.
Have you noticed that blue cheese and walnuts pair well in salads? That apples are great with cheddar? Bring those lessons to your cheese plate. If you pickled ramps or jarred some jam this year, here is a terrific opportunity to showcase local produce from warmer months, or try Tasting Counter’s Fresh and Fermented Strawberry Preserve, which blends fermented green and ripe red strawberries. While your summer board might embrace that season’s abundance—crowded with berries and cascades of Concord grapes—a relatively austere winter board can maintain focus on the cheese itself. Offer simple sliced baguette; textured, flavorful crackers, like Brewers Crackers; and a gluten-free option like Onesto’s Sea Salt Crackers. Make sure you have separate knives for each cheese and consider slicing, cubing or crumbling ahead (depending on the cheese) to make it easy for nibblers to serve themselves.
Next, choose a few seasonal accompaniments, some local and some from far away:
Let your creativity flow. The hardest part is choosing from so many wonderful options. But you really can't go wrong.