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The 7 Cs of cheese

Cheese culture comes to Southern Oregon Saturday, March 19, for the 12th annual Oregon Cheese Festival.

The gamut of goat, cow and sheep cheeses will be available for sampling from 20 artisan creameries, both local and from around the state. It’s a chance to purchase fine cheeses produced in limited quantities or stocked only at specialty stores. The festival also highlights foods to enjoy with cheese.

To make your own gourmet cheese platter, use these seven strategies from Rogue Creamery’s experts, retail manager Tom Van Voorhees and cheesemonger advocate Chelsea Faris. Cheese-shop staff can make recommendations and let you taste before you buy. They also may also suggest ideal methods of serving cheese, along with accompaniments and beverage pairings.

1. Consider the purpose of your cheese platter. Will it be a stand-alone appetizer, an element of a buffet or an after-dinner nibble? Defining the cheese platter’s role helps you to determine which cheeses to present and how much of each. Also take into account the preferences and personalities of your guests. Are they willing to try unusual cheeses, such as stinky blues, or do they prefer simpler flavors? At any gathering, it’s probably best to serve one familiar cheese.

2. Calculate how much to purchase. For a singular starter or cheese-focused fete, allot 1 ounce of each cheese per person. If cheese is part of a larger spread or served at the end of a multicourse dinner, 1 ounce total per person suffices.

3. Choose a variety of cheese types: cow, goat or sheep milk; soft, hard, stinky or blue. Look for cheeses in different shapes, sizes, textures and colors. A diverse selection, usually three to five cheeses, ensures that the plate is interesting and offers something for everyone.

4. Cut, carve, cube or crumble. Make cheeses more accessible by pre-cutting or crumbling harder types. Soft cheeses can be served whole or with a small knife or spreader nearby. A separate knife for each cheese is best, and certain designs are intended for soft, semihard and hard cheeses.

5. Complement cheeses with a cast of accompaniments: nuts, olives, preserves, pickles, honey, sauces, herbs and fresh, seasonal produce. The goal is to balance sweet, salty and savory flavors. Provide a vehicle, such as bread, crackers or slices of cured meat, for each cheese.

6. Compose the platter so it appears abundant. Filling up the spaces between cheeses with accompaniments encourages guests to try different things together. Set the plate out an hour before guests arrive, so cheeses can reach room temperature, where they are most flavorful.

7. Complete the presentation by identifying each cheese for guests’ appreciation and enjoyment. Position small signs, placards, labels or maps next to cheeses. Some cheese-serving sets come with supplies for doing this.

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.

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Step 5 - Oregon Hazelnuts and dried cherries are added to a cheese platter to balance sweet and salty flavors. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta
Step 3 - Rogue Creamery Caveman Blue, left, Smoked goat cheese in maple leaves by Rivers Edge Chevre, and Pistol Point Chipotle Cheddar make for a variety of cheese flavors. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta