The cheese platter, that ubiquitous party standby, runs the gamut from precut squares of tasteless cheddar to elaborate combinations of unheard of specimens. Here’s a guideline to producing a simple and delicious pairing of cheese and fruit that’s an easy, fun and visually appealing main course meal, pre-game snack or party platter.

  1. Start with three types of cheese: soft, semi-soft and hard, of different colors and texture. When possible, choose artisanal cheeses made in California – there are many options available. Good choices for hard cheeses include Dry Jack, Manchego, Gruyere and Parmegiano Regiano. For semi-soft, try an aged white or yellow cheddar, blue cheese or fresh Mozzarella. For soft varieties, there are many different types of good Brie, Camembert, or Teleme; or for a tangier taste, a log of plain or flavored goat cheese. Serve the cheese at room temperature.
  2. Slice the hard cheeses and semi-soft cheeses but leave soft varieties whole.
  3. Pick a theme: Use locally produced varieties such as Cowgirl Creamery, Redwood Hill, or Point Reyes Farmstead—choose three you’ve never had before; ask three friends for their favorite variety; go with all white cheeses, green fruit and hand-crafted, crusty brown bread—or come up with your own.
  4. Add fresh fruit in season: Apples, pears, figs, grapes, kiwi, melons, berries and more.
  5. Sprinkle in: A handful of dried cranberries or currants.
  6. Mix in some nuts: Pecans, walnuts, almonds or cashews.
  7. Serve with: Sliced baguette, crusty fresh-baked brown breads or plain, substantial crackers.
  8. For the dinner option: Add sliced salami and/or other sliced meats and a handful of gourmet olives.
  9. Make sure you have a small knife for spreadable cheese.
  10. Garnish with a large sprig of your favorite fresh herb.

Choose an appropriately sized platter to accommodate your selections. Give your imagination and creativity free reign–there are no rules here! It’s hard not to make cheese and fruit attractive. Place the cheese first, with plenty of space around each. If using meat, add that next. Then place the fruit, crackers and bread. Sprinkle in or mound nuts and dried fruit in small amounts. Garnish with the herb sprig and enjoy!