Secrets from a Food Stylist: How to Style the Perfect Cheese Plate
Vancouver food stylist JoAnne Strongman takes us through pro cheese-styling steps sure to impress at your next event.
Take it from professional food stylist JoAnne Strongman, styling your food and thoughtfully presenting it to guests ups the level of any party.
Clueless about the delicate art of cheese staging or looking for expert tips to take your soirée from ‘get-together’ to ‘party of the year’?
Here are Strongman’s top tips for styling the perfect cheese plate:
1. Start with great cheese: Strongman recommends visiting your local neighbourhood cheese specialist to benefit from their knowledge and tailored-to-you picks. You can also check out the 2015 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix winners in our list of “7 Award-Winning Western Canadian Cheeses to Try Now.”
2. Pick a soft cheese, a hard cheese and a visually interesting cheese. For styling purposes, and with three cheeses as a reasonable minimum, Strongman says adding a visually interesting cheese to the mix is a must — such as a blue or peppercorn.
3. Odd one out — is in. “A good design rule for styling would be threes, fives, sevens,” says Strongman. “An uneven number is a nice, balanced way to visually fill the plate.” Speaking of uneven, placing the cheese slightly on an angle is preferable. “Don’t put it all lined up with the plate if it’s a square plate,” insists the stylist.
4. Keep the rinds on. Rinds are like the wine label of the cheese and help illustrate its story, and unless rinds are wax or cheesecloth, they’re edible! “They are the character and the essence of a lot of what the cheese is made of,” says Strongman.
5. Pre-sliced is extra nice. “You want some that’s pre-sliced, so that it’s easy to access and not clumsy,” says the food stylist. You should make it easy for people to get cheese without interrupting their conversation to hack away at a cheese block. According to Strongman, you don’t need to pre-cut the whole thing, even an example piece can go a long way.
6. Complement, not overpower, with crackers, breads and accoutrements. “For me, the crackers should be the neutral piece in your wardrobe to accompany the cheese that’s the Gucci bag,” says the food stylist. (Strongman’s favourite cracker picks: Lesley Stowe’s Raincoast Crisps and Monkey Toast.) Pro tip: Spread crackers out in a fan.
7. Two artisanal breads make perfect. Artisanal, because it’s beautiful, and two, because this way you can have one for display, and one cut for guests.
8. Pro tip: Preparation. Unwrap cheeses from any cling wrap packaging and keep them in the fridge up until an hour before the party. This way there’s no last-minute hassle unwrapping, and the cheese will be at the right temperature. “By doing a cheese tray having it set up and styled in advance, you get to enjoy that precious time with your guests.”
9. Have the right tools. “When you slice with the right knife you get a much better cut and it’s not clumsy for your guests enjoying it,” explains Strongman. The typical three-piece cheese knife set will come with one for hard cheese, soft cheese and parmesan — each optimized for easy slicing.
10. Plate on a mix of high and low materials. A $150 charcuterie board isn’t mandatory for a well-styled plate. Strongman has served full cheese spreads on $6 Home Depot tile slabs that she then pairs with luxe vintage serveware. Trending: The food stylist says marble cheese plates are hot right now, partially because they keep cool and cheese won’t stick to it. Wood boards are also on trend, even just a large wooden slab that’s been finished so it’s food safe and the same goes for slabs of slate.
11. Let your personality show. Have fun and accessorize with your preferred grapes, olives, jams, jellies, pickles and the like. There is no wrong answer, although Strongman says you might want to skip an upstaging dish of olives stuffed with roasted red chili peppers. Trending: “My big thing this season is edible flowers,” says Strongman. “Edible flowers and micro greens make you look like a rock star.”
12. Print out labels and cheese info. A stylish extra step to titillate foodie friends and a surefire conversation starter.
Above all: “It’s your party, it’s your cheese platter — do what you want.”
For more food styling tips head to joannestrongman.ca.