How to create the perfect cheese platter or table

When a platter of cheese or, even better, a whole table of cheese, gets rolled out at an event it’s guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser. There is something about a well-constructed collection of cheese and crackers that gets people excited. 
So when we heard that Kurrajong Kitchen were presenting the inaugural Cheese Lovers Festival in the Hunter Valley this year, we were salivating with joy - cheeeeese! After hearing all about the different talks and tutorials that will be on during the festival, we asked the Organisers if perhaps we could be hooked up with one of their speakers to find out a little more about putting together the perfect cheese platter or cheese table. 
We were delighted to be introduced to Annie Chesworth of MKR 2014 fame! Annie and her husband, Jason, were affectionately known as Mr and Mrs Cheese throughout the My Kitchen Rules competition, not only because at their first instant restaurant they served up three courses of cheese, but they also work for family-run cheese producer, Hunter Belle Cheese. Cheese is in their blood, so to speak (a little like fondue), so who better to give us some tips on how to create the perfect cheese platter or table at your next gathering.
First, let’s get to know Annie and Jason!

Mr and Mrs Cheese

What started your love affair with cheese? 

Growing up on a dairy farm as a 7th generation farmer, Jason grew up with a love of all things dairy, plus his mother Tania is Dutch and no one loves their cheese like the Dutch! Jason’s family got into the cheese business not long after we started dating, there was no stopping our love of cheese then.

At your own wedding, how much did cheese feature? 

We really wanted to showcase local produce at our wedding, so although we did have traditional cake, we brought out a huge board of whole wheels of cheddar, camembert and bowls of feta for late night snacks! Plus we had cheese knives for our bonbonniere.

What was your biggest highlight of being on MKR? 

Our instant restaurant. It was our style of cooking in our own home - we got to show off the Upper Hunter, our cows, we used wheels of cheese as decoration plus… 3 courses of cheese!

What do you do now? 

We continue on with the family business. We have since opened a second cheese factory and released a small range of cheese into local Woolworths stores. We now have a one-year-old son, Theodore, who keeps us on our toes!

What is you most favourite cheese at the moment? 

We go through so many phases. One week its triple cream brie, the next it’s our beer cheddar. At the moment we are loving our blue cheese – Blue Moon – it’s a semi hard blue that is nice and fruity, creamy but with bite.

Now for some practical advice…

Why is a cheese platter or cheese table a great idea for an event? 

Whether it’s before, after or during an event, you can’t go wrong with a beautiful selection of cheeses to quench your guest’s appetites. It is a great way to welcome guests, and makes a fabulous topic to start conversations. Gather around a cheese board and try the different products, with different condiments and matching wines to get your tastebuds going and your party livening. Bring a platter out after dinner and skip dessert – pair it with some dessert wine and it’s a great way to end your night. It is always the right time for a cheese platter!

What does the perfect cheese platter or table include…

How many varieties of cheese is most suitable? 
The most important is to have different varieties – at least 3 cheeses. 
What varieties of cheeses work best? 
It’s best to have one hard, one soft, and one strong – an example would be a sharp cheddar, a soft brie, and a blue vein or washed rind.
How much cheese should you allow for each guest? 
With Jason around? A lot! We never under cater and we love our cheese! Typically, though its 30gms per person for an appetiser, 50gms for more of a meal.
What accompaniments are best? 
Cheese boards are best seasonal. In summer pair the cheese with some fresh fruits, but in winter some nice chutneys. Before a meal keep it savoury – sundried tomatoes, cured meats. For dessert add some nice sweet quinces or nuts. Christmas time is a great one for cranberries, cherries, rosemary and almonds.
Do you have any tips on knives/ serving boards/ styling? 
Wooden boards are lovely, but large plates work too – most important is to not crowd the cheese, leave room so you can cut it easily. 
Place biscuits in a separate plate or bowl as they can look messy. 

Separate knives for different cheeses is proper cheese etiquette.
What do you suggest for a cheese platter or table which is to be served as nibbles at a cocktail style event?
Camembert, aged cheddar, washed-rind. Serve with marinated olives, prosciutto, sundried tomatoes and a variety of crackers and crusty bread. 
What do you suggest for a cheese platter or table which is to be served after dinner or as an entrée or dessert course?
Triple cream brie, gruyere and semi-hard blue vein. Accompanied with fresh strawberries, candied hazelnuts, quince paste and lavosh.
Another great idea is to serve a baked camembert. For an entrée, pierce the camembert and sit garlic cloves and rosemary in the top, and for dessert, top the camembert with macadamias and honey – bake for 15-20 minutes and serve with crusty bread or lavosh – yum!

Baked Camembert

Sourcing cheese – supermarket vs specialty cheese shop?

We love shopping locally so it is always great to ask your deli for local products – this way you can grab some fantastic products that are usually handmade. Specialty cheese shops often have a much larger range and more full flavoured cheese, although many supermarkets are improving their cheese product ranges. Our best tip is buy Australian – often other countries that do have amazing cheese send us their worst products and keep the best for themselves – do you blame them?!