Consider the Cheese Plate

By Andrew Dickson

Andrew Dickson tends to do his snacking late at night just before going to bed. He generally abstains from snacking during the day, unless he’s on a film set, or any other place where there is a large selection of free snacks begging to be eaten.

Consider the Cheese Plate.

For the lactose tolerant and gluten positive, is a there snack more perfect and pure than cheese and crackers?

No, there is not.

The grilled cheese sandwich enthusiasts among you may ready your arguments.

But I implore you to first consider the relative portion size and amount of preparation that a grilled cheese sandwich requires. If you’re honest with yourself, isn’t a grilled cheese sandwich really a meal?

Cheese and crackers are like a best friend from elementary school you hang with every day after school, then you drift away from briefly in junior high, before becoming inseparable in high school, staying in good touch with through college and then sharing a gross apartment with after graduation.

But eventually you grow up. You need more.

You need the cheese plate.

There is poetry in a good cheese plate. It’s a floral arrangement for the tongue, but instead of the narrow constraints of a vase, you can use the entire canvas of a plate.

Although you’ll soon find that a literal plate won’t be big enough to contain the enormity of your cheese plate imagination. You’ll invest in a platter, or one of those wooden cutting boards with alternating slats of light and dark wood. After all, why spend $55 on something beautiful only to mar it with knife marks? Use it for cheese plates instead.

When friends stop by unannounced you can assemble a cheese plate in minutes. They will think you’re an amazing host, which you will be, because a cheese plate is power.

There is even something on offer for vegetarians, vegans, the gluten free and the lactose intolerant.

A good cheese plate starts with cheese and crackers and adds at least two, but no more than five, other elements. Generally speaking, the better the cheese, the less you need to surround it.

There are seven categories of potential ingredients that you will need to master to attain maximum cheese plate effectiveness: cheese, grain, protein, fruit, nut, spread, and something that comes in a jar soaking in its own juice.

Let’s go through them now.

1. Cheese

A cheese plate would be a called a cheeses plate except cheeses isn’t a word. Yours needs three. Any more and you overwhelm the palette; any less, and you risk boring it. The holy trinity of is hard, soft and something with heat or bite.

2. Grain

Crackers are good, French bread is even better, but both are best of all. Slice your bread into short rounds and buy crackers with names that are fun to say like Wasa, Melba Toast, and Stoned Wheat Thin.

3. Protein

The key here to procure something that someone else spent an enormous amount of time cooking and investing with flavor that you can simply remove from its package. Think smoked salmon or trout, cured salami, or prosciutto.

4. Fruit

The cheese plate of the collective imagination is strewn with clusters of grapes. Which are fine, but don’t discount what dried oranges, fresh fig, or candied mango slices can do for contrast and composition.

5. Nut

There are nuts, and there are Marcona almonds roasted in olive oil and dusted with sea salt and herbs. Do you have a choice? Not after you’ve tried the latter.

6. Spread

The spread is your ‘I’ve just had seven cheese and crackers in a row and I’m thinking maybe I need to lay off the cheese but I’m still hungry’ option. You can go sweet with a jam or marmalade, or savory with a paté or mousse, salty and sophisticated with caviar, or even whatever hummus is with hummus.

7. Something that comes in a jar soaking in its own juice

With the twist of a lid you can create a cheese plate that will gets likes and probably even comments. STCIAJSIIOJ options include but are not limited to roasted red peppers, sweet peppers, hot peppers, baby carrots, pickles, pickled carrots, pickled other things, water chestnuts, and olives. Olives are almost their own category, there are so many ways to go with olives, including, but not limited to, tapenade.

Capers! If you invoke capers you win the cheese plate. The hardest part of including capers on your cheese plate if finding out where your supermarket stocks them. They will be on a lower shelf back towards the dairy, an aisle over from paper towels.

Which is to say shopping is the secret to a cheese plate; it’s less about being an artist, more about being a curator.

Once you understand the cheese plate you also understand that Trader Joe’s is really a cheese plate supply store that just happens to offer a few other things too.

It’s about having the right ingredients on hand, and best of all most of these ingredients keep for weeks if not months.

Just don’t do that thing where it’s late and you’re tired but still kind of hungry and you open the fridge and just grab stuff to snack on, and slowly but surely exhaust your cheese plate resources.

Treat yourself.

Take the extra minute or two, and make yourself a cheese plate.