The gates are flung open, guests start to arrive and Thanksgiving dinner? Soon. In the meantime, something to nibble with a glass of wine is required. The simplest, most appealing choice is a cheese plate. A few cheeses artfully arranged with a smattering of fruits and nuts is enough to whet the appetite for the big feast (and not ruin it either, since it’s up to the guests to monitor what they consume).
Three cheeses, each with a different personality, is what you’ll need to satisfy most guests. Select a hard cheese in the Cheddar category: something semisoft but not too funky or runny, like a Camembert style; and a fresher example, like a log of goat cheese. Avoid blue-veined cheeses that tend not to be crowd-pleasers, and molten soft-ripening examples, often with rind that has to be pared off, which can turn your display into an unmade bed. Whether to offer generous wedges and knives or to precut your selections depends on how much mac and cheese you’re planning in days to come.
Among American hard cheeses, the Cheddars from Vermont makers like Grafton Village and Cabot are excellent, as is aged dry Monterey Jack from Vella Cheese in California. In the semisoft category Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese in Wisconsin or Jasper Hill Farm’s Whitney from Vermont would be top choices. For a fresh cheese, look to Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog from California and Firefly Farms Mountain Top from Maryland, both goat milk with a just trace of blue that’s not aggressive but provides complexity.
The Crackers and Bread
Resist those everything bagel crackers and opt for plain so as not to outshine the cheeses. Toasted croutons made from thin slices of baguette are excellent vehicles for your cheeses. Pile them in a napkin-lined bowl or in a basket adjacent to the cheese display.
Pecan or walnut halves, small bunches of seedless grapes, fresh or dried figs, seedless Medjool dates, a dish of condiment like a chutney or fig jam, slivers of fresh fennel or thin wedges of fuyu persimmon can give your display that welcome touch of cornucopia abundance while enhancing its munchability.