Holiday party in minutes: Three gourmet cheese plate pairings guaranteed to impress

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Entertaining with appetizers is the perfect way to have fun without the stress of creating a multi-course meal.
Entertaining with appetizers is the perfect way to have fun without the stress of creating a multi-course meal.

Whether you’re gathering with friends, colleagues or family this holiday season, entertaining with appetizers is the perfect way to have fun without the stress of creating a multi-course meal. And when the question of what to serve arises and you need an easy-yet-impressive solution, cheese plates are an ideal way to bring a gourmet touch to your event without a lot of effort.

If a cheese plate sounds too basic, think again. It’s all about balancing tastes, textures and visual appeal with a variety of fun food and beverage pairings. Plus, it’s a great conversation starter to get your guests interacting.

Luckily, if you’re in a rush on the day of your gathering, a cheese plate is easy to put together in minutes – no cooking necessary. Just plan to include three to five cheeses per platter – estimate about 3 to 4 ounces of cheese per person – and arrange -your choices on a pretty dish or tray.

There are infinite ways to create a cheese plate that will be the talk of your party. Consider these simple suggestions for a bit of inspiration:

* Play with variety and contrast. Include cheeses in a range of textures, from soft to semi-hard to crumbly or hard, that have a range of flavor profiles. Consider combinations like a soft and creamy brie, a harder aged cheese like Stella Sharp Provolone and a crumbly Salemville blue cheese.

* Start mild and move to strong. Give your guests a tastebud tour of the many different flavors fine cheeses have to offer. Present a trio of options with varied intensity of flavor including an appealingly tangy chevre like Organic Creamery goat cheese, a buttery Gouda and a bold cheese like Black Creek Extra Sharp Cheddar.

* Shake it up with unusual cheeses. Give guests the opportunity to try cheeses they might not have had before. It’s the perfect way for them to sample something that could become a new favorite. Look for cheeses with unique ingredients, like Great Midwest Mango Fire Cheddar, which has habanero pepper and the rich sweetness of mango.

It’s a great idea to set out some other small food items that pair nicely with cheese, like Kalamata olives, sun-dried tomatoes, Marcona almonds, grilled vegetables, sliced fruit or even chocolate.

Cheese and wine famously go together, so offering your guests samples from a few bottles will make the tasting experience even more fun. Keep these wine-and-cheese pairing principles in mind:

* For hard, stronger-flavored cheeses (e.g. Gruyere or aged Cheddar): Medium-bodied reds (e.g. Pinot Noir)

* For soft, young cheeses (e.g. goat cheese): Simple, young wines like sauvignon blanc

* For stronger blue cheeses (e.g. gorgonzola, Danish Blue): Sweet/dessert wines

* For mild, buttery or creamy cheeses (e.g. triple-creme bries): Sparkling wines

* Semi-soft cheeses (e.g. camembert): Chardonnays and full cabernets

Parties should be just as much fun for the hostess as they are for guests. Opting for easy-to-create gourmet cheese plates will save time and allow you to enjoy the tasting experience with friends and family.