Exactly How to Make a Glorious Cheese Plate with Basic Pantry Ingredients
Because a cheese plate is always a good idea, especially in quarantine.
The thing about cheese plates is they make everything better. They can take a sad weeknight and transform it into a good time, something that we all need—and deserve—right now.
Even if your food stash has dwindled down to a few lackluster pantry items and a couple nubbins of cheese, we’re here to tell you that you can twirl up an impressive cheese plate with even the most basic fixings.
We talked to Marissa Mullen, creator of @ThatCheesePlate (her Instagram feed that’s a mood-boosting parade of gorgeously arranged cheese, charcuterie, fruits, and other accoutrement, each with a step-by-step photo how-to) and author of That Cheese Plate Will Change Your Life (out May 12!) for her tips on how to create a cheese board that looks like a work of art, using average pantry staples.
The No-Fail Cheese Plate Formula
Mullen coined a method called “Cheese By Numbers,” which makes the cheese plate building process simple and yields beautiful results. She divides the cheese plate into six sections: 1) cheese, 2) meat, 3) produce, 4) crunch, 5) dip, and 6) garnish. Each number acts as a step to build upon.
Click through her Instragram post below to see everything come together, step by step:
How to Build a Beautiful Cheese Plate (With Pantry Ingredients!)
First, Pick Your Plate:
The thing about cheese plates is that—whether basic or bougie—they are undeniably marvelous. So just have fun using what you already have on-hand—from the surface you choose to the cheeses, meats, and sidekicks you place on top. If you don’t have a fancy-pants platter, “try a cutting board, a dinner plate, or even a cookie tray,” Mullen says. “You can play around with a variety of shapes like square, round, or rectangular, and different textures like wooden, marble, and slate. I love using plates that have a small lip around the edge to ensure that the items stay in place and don’t roll off the sides!"
Once you have your plate, platter, board, or tray, it’s time to arrange your cheese by numbers.
What to Grab: If you’re arranging a last-minute plate on top of making fewer trips to the grocery store due to Covid-19, your cheese selection may be on the miniscule side. The good news? “I don’t think there’s a ‘golden rule’ to how many cheeses to feature,” Mullen says. “I typically like to start with 2-4 varieties.” Mullen recommends combining one hard cheese (she likes Marieke Mature Gouda from Thorpe, WI), one soft (Brie or Camembert are always crowd pleasers), and one funky cheese (she likes Roelli Red Rock, a cave-aged Wisconsin cheddar with a hint of blue cheese). But use what you have, even if it’s the last slices of a package, and savor every bite.
How to Arrange It: Mullens puts the cheese on the plate first: “I spread out the different textures across the board, and I like to pre-cut harder cheese while leaving softer cheese whole,” she says. “This ensures easy grazing.”
What to Grab: Charcuterie is a cheese plate go-to thanks to its salty and fatty flavor notes, but if you’re lacking in this department, don’t fret. “You can use all kinds of meat for your cheese plate,” Mullen says. “I've used deli meat like turkey or ham, I've sautéed some chicken sausage, and even buffalo wings for a game day plate.”
How to Arrange It: “The ‘salami river’ is the key to a fun cheese plate,” Mullen says, referring to a row of neatly folded meat slices that runs across a cheese plate. “If you don’t eat meat, you can replace the ‘salami river’ with a produce item like cucumbers or apricots.”
What to Grab: Grab two different types of produce—this will add color and a delicious flavor combination to your cheeses. “I love using olives, dried fruits, fresh berries, and a neutral vegetable,” Mullen says.
How to Arrange It: “Typically, I'll put fruit and veggies on the plate in ‘produce ponds,’ essentially piling it in small mounds to disperse color and texture,” she says.
What to Grab: “I typically use flatbread crackers and nuts for this step. Get creative and throw in some chips and pretzels from the pantry.” Mullen recommends serving a cracker plate on the side of your main cheese plate for easy refills.
How to Arrange It: “Fill in the remaining gaps on the plate with crunchy items,” says Mullen.
What to Grab: A ramekin or small bowl, plus something delicious and dip-able, like jam, relish, chutney. A dip will provide visual interest and a sweet, spicy, or savory bite, depending on what you have on hand and the flavor profile you’re looking for.
How to Arrange It: “Fill that empty ramekin on your cheese plate with a jam or compote. I love a fig jam, which pairs beautifully with nutty cheese.”
What to Grab: “Fresh herbs and edible flowers add such a beautiful pop of color and complete your masterpiece,” says Mullen.
How to Arrange It: Snip a few stems of your herb of choice and lay them in a bundle in one or two spots on the board, or separate leaves and tuck them among ingredients throughout the plate for a more organic look.
Want to get great cheese at home without hoofing it to the grocery store? Many businesses have begun selling cheese online, which is a great way to access unique, delicious varieties and support local makers. Mullen likes Wisconsin Cheese, a collective of 40 Wisconsin cheese companies that deliver to your door.