At the start of the new year, lots of us are looking at our habits and trying to get a handle on our finances.
January always seems like a good time to reevaluate your purchases. It is the time of year I encourage my partner Joe to drink some wine we already have instead of buying more!
Keeping with the theme of being a little more cautious with your pennies (so to speak), I thought I would make some suggestions on how to create a cheese platter on a budget.
Budget is a good word to start with. It's always a good idea to have a budget when you go shopping for cheese. Cheese stores are like temples of temptation, with pretty cheeses, fancy jars of preserves, and toasty nuts calling to you. Stay the course and stick to your plan so you don't spend all your allowance in one place.
Once you've set your budget, determine how many cheeses you want to buy. If you're having cheese as a snack or before dinner, 40-50 grams per person should be plenty. If you're having your platter as more of a meal or a tasting, then 100 grams a person is probably more appropriate. Sorting this out first will give you a plan of how many pieces, and what size pieces you'd like to buy. Going armed with a list, always helps to stay on budget.
Here are some tips that you may not have thought of. Some might be good for making your life easier, wasting less food, and challenging yourself to entertain without breaking the bank.
- Before you go shopping, check your fridge. Do you have a piece of cheddar or a chunk of Reggiano that you could use for a platter? Use it. I always think of how much goes into making cheese and wasting it seems like a crime. You can break your Parmigiano into some irregular chunks or cut your odd shape of cheddar into sticks. Whatever you have, use it up!
- One idea is to buy one more interesting cheese and pair it with two less expensive cheeses. Maybe one goopy, rich and buttery triple cream and then a smaller piece of two hard cheeses, like cheddar or Gruyere, to back it up. The star of the platter is the cheese you've splurged on, and the other two keep your spending in line.
- Young cheeses tend to be less expensive than aged cheeses. Young Manchego, for example, is less pricey than its aged counterpart. The same goes for Cheddar, Comte, Gruyere, Chevre and Gouda. Maybe it's a good time to experiment with a younger version of a cheese you're fond of.
- Fresh cheeses tend to be well priced. A creamy feta, tasty, drained ricotta, or fresh chèvre could all be dressed up and become the focus of your platter. You could mix up some herbs into a nice ricotta and dress it with olive oil. How about a slice of fresh goat cheese drizzled with honey or a fig preserve? The cheese might only cost $6-8, but with some accompaniment, it can become a much more interesting addition to your platter.
- On that same note, if you would like to serve blue cheese, you could drizzle it with honey, and a drop or two of a sweeter Balsamic Vinegar is also great on some chunked-up Reggiano or Padano.
- Rather than buying a preserve to go on your cheese platter, see if you already have something in your fridge or your pantry that you could use. A jam or chutney you already own will cost you nothing. Maybe some cranberry relish left over from Christmas or a present you received but never opened. This is the perfect time.
- Buy one nice local apple instead of buying a lot of fruit to garnish your platter. Grapes are pricey in the winter months and not always nice. Why not decorate with some wedges of apple, which will taste better with your cheese anyway. Add it just before you serve it so it doesn't oxidize.
- Use a fancy plate or board for your array of cheeses. Maybe you have a nice plate you look at but never use? Then why not haul it out, clean it and use it? All dishes are for using, and maybe a lovely antique plate or a really beautiful wooden board will dress up your cheese and take the pressure off your artistic skills :)
- Shop the specials! Most grocery stores and cheese shops will have specials from time to time. Be willing to change your plans a bit if there is something tasty looking that is featured.
In the picture, I have used a couple of these tricks. I have built my platter on a fancy fish plate I own, but don't have the opportunity to use very often. I have used two smaller bowls for preserves because I didn't have much of either in my fridge. I used an apple I bought at the winter farmers market to garnish and drizzled some alfalfa clover honey on my Happy Days Chèvre. I cut two other small firm cheeses to look interesting and bought a piece of blue on special to round out the selection.
I hope one or two of these suggestions help you with your entertaining in the coming months. Enjoy cheese in 2024!
Here are some wine picks under $25 to pair with your cheese platter :