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The Cheese Tray - Tutorial



One thing that I learned a lot about, and got a lot of practice doing, when I worked at the manor, was putting together a Cheese Tray for dinner parties or other celebratory occasions.  I can now put together a really attractive one with confidence and knowledge, which is saying a lot, considering the fact that I grew up eating only plastic cheese, and wouldn't have touched a smelly cheese with a ten foot pole! I have come to love a great variety of this wonderful food,  and am game to try almost any kind, having developed in my later life what I would consider to be a really adventurous cheese palate!  I owe a lot of this knowledge and experience to my ex boss, who was a great tutor in teaching me what was right and proper when it came to putting together a great cheese tray!


The first thing you will want is a nice surface to lay everything out on.  A large flat board works well.  At the Manor we used a large flat wicker basket/tray.  Today I have used one of my larger wooden cutting boards. It doesn't really matter if it is a big banged up, because you will be covering it.  I have chosen several nice paper doilies to do this . . . 


My boss used to pick up these paper leaves whenever she would go to the States, and bring them back to use on the Manor Cheese trays. We had them in all sorts of colours, shapes and sizes. We could usually get away with using only three or four of these, so they did last a long time.  But paper doilies work very well also, just so you know.



Another thing to remember is that you don't have to break the bank with the cheeses you choose to buy and serve, but you will want at least four different kinds, and you should buy the most expensive cheese that you can afford to buy.  You will want a soft cheese, such as a goats cheese, ash covered or not  . . . please don't be tempted to use cream cheese.  A Cheese tray is not the place for that. (If you do want to serve cream cheese, a block of that placed onto a plate with a hot pepper jelly, gently warmed to loosen it and poured over top goes very nice.)


A semi-soft such as a brie or a danish blue, perhaps a reblochon . . . a semi hard, like a stilton blue, or a comte, maybe a  manchego, I like the white stilton with mango and ginger, or with cranberries . . . and of course you will want something hard.  A really good crumbly well-aged cheddar is nice, as is a Parmesan or an Asiago.  There are over 500 varieties of cheese in the world that you can choose from, and they are all very delicious.  One rule of thumb you will want to follow, is to bring the cheeses to room temperature before serving.  They taste much better at room temperature.


You will need something to eat with the cheese.  Crackers, toasted slices of baguette, crisp breads and the like.  I have chosen a selection of crackers here.  The digestive are always favourites to serve with a fruity cheese . . . there was a time when I thought holiday crackers meant buttery round crackers, but I have grown so much since then and I am fond of many different kinds and in fact they would be my last choice as they are far too crumbly and break up too easily.


At the manor the crackers were handed around in an antique silver biscuit barrel, however most of us don't have budgets that run to one of those, so today I have simply arranged my crackers in an attractive porcelain dish. 


You will also want something sweet, or nutty or salty to go with your cheeses.  Some people add chacuterie such as a good salami, or proscuitto ham.  Nuts also go well . . . toaste walnuts are nice with most cheeses, as are toasted almonds.  We like fruit with ours.  Today I  used some really nice sweet sable grapes and crisp slices of a sweet apple . . . 


If you are using grapes a set of grape shears comes in really handy.  At the manor we had beautiful silver ones, but again, not all of us can afford something like that. What you can do however is to clip the grapes ahead of time into small managable clusters before placing them attractively on the tray. A small round bladed knife for cutting the cheese is also a must,  and if you have soft cheeses, you will also want another one to use for them so that you don't contaminate your lovely goats cheese with the strong flavoured stilton, etc. 


Another thing which goes really nice with cheese is Membrillo,  a delightful sweet semi solid fruit paste/cheese made from the Quince. It is really delicious, but somewhat hard to find.


I always add a small bowl of a pickle or relish.  A well flavoured chutney works perfectly with cheese.   Sweet, sticky and spicy they help to really enhance the beautiful flavours of cheese. We are huge fans of the English Provender range of chutneys in this house. (Cheese and chutney sandwiches are a real love!)


English Provender have a wonderful variety of chutneys available  for use with your holiday cheese trays. In fact I would call them cheese-board-tastic! Today I used  their Caramelised Red Onion, but it is only one of many that are available.  


Great cheese pairing tips for the ultimate cheese board:
  • Caramelised Red Onion Chutney – pair with a strong hard cheese like mature Cheddar or strong blue cheese like Blacksticks blue or Stilton
  • Sweet Tomato and Chilli Chutney – pair with smoked log cheese or a hard cheese like Red Leicester, mild Cheddar or Double Gloucester
  • Plum & Bramley Apple Chutney - pair with white soft cheeses like brie and cambazola, rind washed cheeses like Epoisses or Morbier, or try blue cheeses like Blacksticks blue or Stilton
 You can buy these lovely chutneys in all of the shops.  Beautiful packaging and lovely flavours. They are my favourites.


 So as you can see today, putting together a cheese tray for the holidays can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it.  It needn't cost a lot of money, and it certainly doesn't take a lot of time.  I have never met a person yet, whose eyes don't light up when you bring one out.  A nice cheese tray can make a perfect finish to a holiday meal,  as well as going very  well as nibbles with drinks.


However you choose to serve one, it is bound to be a popular addition to your holiday celebrations!  Happy Holidays and Bon Appetit! 

PS - any cheese leftovers will also work very well in a gourmet mac and cheese.  Just saying!





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Marie Rayner
18 Comments
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18 comments:

  1. Happy Thanksgiving Day Marie to you and ur Todd!

    Happy Thanksgiving to all of your friends that comment too!

    Great big hugs!

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    1. Thanks very much Jan! Same to you and yours! xo

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  2. Love the grape shears!
    And that floral doily looks Cath Kidsonish..Thanks Marie!

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    1. Aren't they just Monique! I got them on Amazon. The company is Talking Tables! xo

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  3. Oh, I do love a good cheese tray. Sometimes I will put together a small one just for Keith and I. Of course, we don't have fancy cheeses on it, usually just plain cheddar or swiss and I like smoked cheese. Gouda or Edam are favorites. I usually use grapes, sometimes dried apricots. We have also found a product that is quite similar to Membrillo, which we can get at Trader Joe's, but it comes in different flavors - I prefer the cherry. Will have to look for the English Provender products. Have a wonderful day!

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    1. That cherry stuff sounds gorgeous Raquel! I think I would love that! We usually don't get much fancier than a good cheddar and a stilton. Todd doesn't like the fruity ones, but I adore them. I also love a nice soft goats cheese. The English Provender products are really great! Happy Thanksgiving to you and Keith! xo

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  4. I love a cheese tray but have never actually put together one as nice as the one you have described. Thanks so much for all the tips. I hope to do one up for the holidays when I have my family night. We too like fruit and a nice chutney. I'm looking forward to doing this. I appreciate your site so much although I don't always comment. Blessings on your day...Sandi

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    1. You're very welcome Sandi! I hope you had a lovely day yesterday! I think your cheese tray is bound to be a success! xo

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  5. Lakeland is good for the fruit paste.

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    1. Thanks for that information! I will be sure to check it out next time I go into the city! xo

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  6. I love your pretty doilies, but seeing them on a cheeseboard took me back to my very bossy cookery teacher who insisted that with savoury dishes you must only use plain doilies, never lacey! I haven't seen a plain doilie in 40 years! Mind you she also said that sweet scones should be cut with a frilly edge cutter but cheese must be done with a plain one. Thanks for bringing back memories with your lovely doilies.

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    1. I have never seen a plain doily Karen! You are welcome! xo

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  7. Thank you for the great tips on preparing a cheese tray. I'm wondering...if one is being totally proper, is there a specific size individual plate that should be available for guests? Your photo prompted the question since the cheese trays I've seen are served at business functions without individual plating options.

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    1. Strictly, at the Manor all the guests had their own small bread and butter sized plates along with a knife for spreading if they wanted to. But this was at a sit down dinner when the cheese was brought to the table. In a casual atmosphere such as a nibbles and drinks party, I don't think individual plates are required, although cocktail napkins would certainly not go amiss! Hope this helps!

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  8. I did serve a cheese plate this past Thursday it had great cheese choices but the presentation left a little to be desired because I did not know some of these things. Thank you so much for sharing this today! I will make notes for the next time I serve one. I love this blog. I learn so much! Thank you for taking the time to write!

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    1. Christina the next time you serve one it will be brilliant! I am sure of it! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! You made my day! xo

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    2. I just wanted you to know I shared your cheese tray tutorial link over at my blog today, just in case you get a lot of traffic all of a sudden and wonder what was going on. (Yes, I am that excited about this!! Now, I wonder if I can get you to make me a tutorial on the perfect cup of tea! Here in the south US we drink sweet tea, iced, but I would love a good cup of Earl Grey or something of that sort sometimes.)

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    3. Thanks so much Christina! Every little helps! You have set my brain in motion, so watch this space! xoxo PS - Earl Grey is fabulous!

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