How To Build A Perfect French Cheese Plate

No gathering worth its salt is complete without a cheese selection of some sort, and we've seen our fair share of really sad cheese plates. A word of advice: If you're buying it at the supermarket pre-diced, then it's probably not worth doing. We recently met with Charles Duque, the director of the French Dairy Board, Americas, and he gave us a quick rundown on how to assemble the perfect cheese plate, as well as a couple French cheese suggestions for each.

The key to a great cheese platter, according to Duque, is making sure that there's one of each major style of cheese: washed-rind, soft or semi-soft cheese, hard or semi-hard cheese, bloomy-rind, and blue. Of course, there's plenty of room for variation in here, but if you stick to French cheeses (and these cheeses in particular), you'll get plenty of compliments:

Washed-Rind: Livarot
Livarot is pungent and earthy, with a tangy and slightly spicy flavor.

Soft Cheese: Bûche de Luçay
Duque recommends a goat cheese, like Bûche de Luçay from the Loire Valley. Fresh goat cheese is light, tangy, and spreadable; and aged goat cheese (Bûche de Luçay is aged for two months) is slightly crumbly and similar in texture to cheesecake.

Hard Cheese: Mimolette
Mimolette is nutty with hints of butterscotch, similar to an aged Gouda. It's very firm but not overly salty like Parmigiano-Reggiano, and its bright orange color also makes it stand out.

Bloomy Rind: St. André
St. Andre is similar to Brie or Camembert, with a smooth and buttery texture and a very mild flavor.

Blue: Fourme d'Ambert
Fourme d'Ambert is a great "starter" blue cheese, thanks to its mild and delicate flavor and creamy texture. It has the slightly fruity yet spicy flavor that all the best blue cheeses have.

As for accompaniments, some baguette slices always do well, but neutral-flavored crackers will also suffice. Some grapes, figs, and honey will also not only brighten up the plate, but also partner really well with the cheeses. Also make sure that each cheese has its own knife, and cut off the first slice of each yourself so your guests aren't too shy to dig in!