Let's be honest,
one of the best the best part of a party or event is when you see a big, beautiful cheese platter on the table, glowing with all types of cheeses, perfect fruit and crisp crackers.
The opportunities and mouthfuls are endless.
Well, if you've ever wondered how to make the platter of your dreams at home, we've got you covered.
In time for the festive season, The Huffington Post Australia racked the brains of Dave Mellor, who is the Warrnambool Cheese and Butter cheese barista -- or a Brie-rista (you're welcome).
If you're wondering what a cheese barista is, Mellor basically eats cheese all day. Not even kidding.
"I work for a cheese company in Victoria and my role is to taste every bit of cheese that we make on site. It is a hard job," Mellor told HuffPost Australia.
"It's probably a couple hundred pieces of cheese each day, it's quite a lot of cheese. It's my job to make sure there's no defects and that it's made correctly."
Mellor's job of "babysitting for all of the styles of cheese" isn't all that easy, though, and it takes much time, skill and knowledge.
"Cheese is a live product which means it's got live bacteria in it, which can make it mature in loads of different ways, so it's my job to ensure they get the best flavour at the end point, wherever that might be."
Here are Mellor's tips and tricks on how to make the cheese platter of your dreams.
"Cheese platters are good because you get the variety of cheeses, so it's like wines in the market -- you're always going to find a cheese that one guest likes and another cheese someone else likes," Mellor said.
"You can place a lot of different varieties on the platter and so you'll have a high chance of pleasing everyone at your party or event."
When it comes to the perfect cheese platter, diversity is key.
"It's good to have a variety of cheese. What I mean by that is have a hard cheese like a cheddar, a creamy cheese like a Brie or Camembert, and then one special cheese like a Blue or flavoured cheese such as chilli or black pepper," Mellor explained.
"Then you can build around those three if there's specific ones you tend to like. It's important to have those varieties but, ideally, you don't want more than five cheeses on the board."
If you remember the first time you had cheese with fresh, crisp grapes, you will know how crucial fruit is to any dreamy cheese platter.
"Fruit is very important," Mellor said. "Fruit goes really well with cheese, but a good property of fruit -- such as with sliced apple or a vegetable like celery -- is that it works as a palate cleanser.
"When you've got all these different cheeses on your platter, the flavours don't tend to blend well together so it's good to refresh your palate in between each cheese so you get the proper flavour."
Although we use quince paste as an accompaniment, traditionally it was intended to be used a palate cleanser.
"That's what quince paste was invented for, but a lot of Australians nowadays use quince paste as an accompaniment with cheese," Mellor said. "Australian cheddars are more savoury so that quince paste works really well as a flavour match."
Aside from the obvious apple, pear, grapes and melon, other foods which pair beautifully with cheese include nuts and apricot.
"Apricots work really well with cheddars, particularly a cheddar with onion chutney and apricots," Mellor said.
"It's good to have nuts on your platter as well. Some walnuts or pistachios -- something that gives you that salty element so you can balance out some of the cheeses."
When it comes to crackers, Mellor said not all crackers are equal.
"It depends on what type of cheese you're using," he explained. "For a creamier cheese like Brie or ricotta, where it's quite smooth in texture, you want a thicker crackers so it gives you that textural benefit. You don't want a soft cracker because you'll only get the one textural flavour in your mouth.
"If you're going out and buying a premium vintage cheese in the market, you don't want to overpower that with a flavoured cracker. Ideally, for that type of cheese, you want just a plain cracker."
As for Camembert, Mellor recommends baking it and serving with crusty bread. Swoon.
"But you don't have to stick to crackers and bread. A good tip is blue cheese goes really well with apple and walnut, so use the sliced apple as the cracker and crumble the blue cheese over the top with some walnut crumb and a bit of honey."
For the hard cheeses, definitely stick with a thinner cracker, or simply serve it on its own.
"With the Warrnambool we use a balsamic glaze, and we tend to just pile that on the cheese platter and sprinkle the glaze over. It has a really appealing look and you can then just pick up the little shavings and eat them directly," Mellor said.
Good cheese needs good wine, and there are a few simple tips to remember when it comes to pairing.
"There's definitely a few good tips as there's a lot of wine out there, so it can be quite daunting for the everyday consumer to figure out what goes with what," Mellor said.
"For a good vintage cheddar, you're looking for a red wine, so people who are already doing that, you're doing it right. A balanced red wine like a Cab Sav works really well with a cheddar because it really balances out that flavour."
"When you move to the creamy, soft cheeses that are rind ripened or your Camembert or Brie, you want something to cut through that freshness," Mellor explained.
"So, you want to lean more towards your dessert and more sweet wines. What that sweeter wine will do is cut down that fattiness of the cheese and make it taste a lot better.
"With a blue cheese, a chocolatey stout or a dark beer works really well because for some reason the blue cheese brings out the chocolate flavour and becomes really strong."
If you don't drink alcohol or like wine, don't worry. You can still get the most out of your cheese with these drinks.
"You can kind of cross these over. With the freshness of a dessert wine, if you didn't want a wine you could have an appletini for the same effect," Mellor said.
"I quite like an elderflower cordial with cheddar as it gives it a burst of freshness. There's also a lot of mocktails out there which have the same flavour as cocktails. But if you can drink wine, it's probably the ideal pairing for a cheese."
Although you might think you can do no wrong when it comes to enjoying your cheese platter, Mellor has three points of caution.
"With cheese platters, sometimes you have them at the end of meals and a traditional part of that is to have coffee at the end of a meal," Mellor said.
"However, cheese and coffee don't go well together as the coffee really stops your tastebuds from working. It has that effect for one or two hours, so it's really going to affect the flavour of the cheese. So definitely don't have coffee with a higher priced cheese."
The temperature of the cheese is incredibly important, so if you usually serve your cheese straight from the fridge, remember to let it first rest to get the most flavour.
"When people make cheese platters they always tend to get the cheese straight out of the fridge and use it. Cheese is designed to be eaten at room temperature, so you should be getting that cheese out of the fridge half an hour before using, for a normal sized block," Mellor told HuffPost Australia.
"That will give it the chance to lift up to room temperature. If you're eating the cheese cold, it's really going to reduce the flavour strength -- it's not going to taste as strong as it should do."
Ever put leftover cheese in the fridge and tasted it a few days later only to realise it tastes, well, like fridge? Chances are you're storing the cheese incorrectly.
"When you're making a cheese platter, you always have leftover cheese and often people aren't sure about how to store it," Mellor said.
"People realise when they taste the cheese a couple of days later, after it's been in the fridge, it tastes different from when you first bought it. This is because cheese is higher in fat, so it absorbs aromas. It's essentially taking the aromas of yesterday's dinner and whatever else you have in your fridge."
To store cheese correctly, wrap it in wax paper, not cling wrap.
"People tend to go straight for the cling wrap, which makes cheese sweat," Mellor said.
"Ideally, the best way is to wrap it in wax paper -- this lets the cheese breathe and not sweat -- and then put it in an airtight container so it doesn't absorb the aromas in your fridge. This keep the cheese premium tasting for a lot longer than just the first taste."
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