Showcase local cheeses with classic companions for a buffet centerpiece.
Classic items for a cheese tray are fresh bread, like this French baguette from the Macrina Bakery near me in Seattle. With 35 guests expected I cut 70 slices from two baguettes. Allow 1-2 ounces of cheese per person when serving with other dishes. Personally I like crunch so I also added good plain cracker (La Panzanella). Plain or toasted walnuts are considered to be a palate refresher in wine or cheese tasting. Dried apricots or raisins are a common fruit choice. These apricots are sugar and sulphur free which is why they are dark and not orange. The package they came in said never buy an orange apricot! I didn't know that. The empty dish with the label below that says Boat Street Pickled Apricots is empty because the tray was getting ready to travel on my lap in the car and I didn't want it to wind up on my party outfit.
The most fun in the research for this project--and all of it was fun--was reading about the cheese makers we have in the Pacific Northwest and then tasting before I decided what to buy. If you want hand milked, hand made, farmstead cheese (made from one herd only, no outside milk) the choices are exciting. I aimed for a selection of cow, goat and sheep, but was unable to purchase a sheep cheese on the day I shopped. I was flexible with a long list of cheeses when I only needed four to fill the tray.
Definitely make tags for the cheeses so guests can see what kind of cheese, the flavor profile and where it's made. I wrote a description of each cheese from the web site on the back of each tag. The tags are easily made by taking two adhesive name badges from the office supple store and sticking them together with a bamboo skewer in the center. Martha Stewart eat your heart out! I did not get that idea from you. I looked at lots of cheese tags online and none of them gave me enough room to provide essential details. I found the cow and goat silhouettes online and printed them out and cut and glued them on to the tags.
Renee Erickson is a local hero of great food and several restaurants, including the old Boat Street Cafe where the pickles get their name, Blue cheeses are frequently pared with chutneys or fruit jams. As a student of her cookbook, A Boat, A Whale and a Walrus, I remembered that she had an opinion about blue cheese and it inspired her to make these not sweet, but savory, pickled apricots just like Patricia Wells taught Renee in her cooking class in Provence. I had to have that for my tray. People were so surprised by the flavor there was not much left over.
The last decorative item is the parchment paper leaves I used as garnish on the tray and to protect the silver from the cheese knives. Available in many shapes and colors, it's fun to have a few in your pantry for any plate that could use some color. Enjoy your self making a cheese tray. What occasion couldn't use a delicious cheese?