I like to consider myself a pretty accomplished platter maker for two reasons: I love to entertain and have friends over for chats and wine, and I love to eat cheese.
Both of these passions result in needing to know my way around a cheese board.
For the perfect platter, you need a nice balance of savoury, salty, sweet, smooth and crunchy. But here's the thing: making a platter shouldn't cost you hundreds of dollars.
Some of the cheese boards you see making the rounds on Instagram cost upwards of $1000, as well as lengthy styling time and multiple moving parts - it's a mine field!
I'm not that kind of girl, and find baked brie and some fresh bread will satisfy every time.
Will Studd, host of the television show Cheese Slices, told the Guardian that when it comes to the perfect platter, it's always a case of "less is more".
"Keep it simple," he says. "The more cheeses you have, the more difficult it is to have them in optimum condition and to match them with wines."
Too true, Will. Here are my ingredients for a perfect platter:
Over The Moon Black Truffle Brie: I don't believe in making platters with five different cheeses all screaming for attention - instead, place one or two on the board, and just make them really good quality. Buy a wedge of this from your local supermarket, or splash out on the full wheel if you're feeling particularly festive. The line of truffle gives an umami tang through the creamy, buttery cheese and it's fabulous. Pair it with something milder, or just let it sit and be the fairly expensive star.
Port Salut: I recently had my life changed by this little orange triangle of goodness at a friend's house and I've never looked back. It takes like a strong Babybel cheese in the classiest of ways. It's smooth, savoury and sexy, and goes fabulously with fruit. It's definitely a more mild option, perfect to pair with a truffle brie or a biting blue.
Having some fresh fruit on your board is a great way to cut through the richness of the cheese, plus it's nice to pretend your platter is healthy. Grapes and sliced pear are the most obvious option, and go great with almost any cheese you care to throw at them. In the summer, adding some fresh berries and melon on your board never goes amiss, and adds some much needed colour as well. In the depths of winter it can be pricey to get your paws on fresh fruit, so dried apricots are a great alternative, or my favourite, dried figs.
Chocolate on a cheeseboard can be a controversial move, but in my world it's a non-negotiable - kind of a bridge between the sweet fruit and rich cheese. My favourite is the new Green and Black's Smooth range, which hits the sweet - and, you guessed it - smooth requirements.
The brand uses exclusively ethically-sourced cocoa as well, so it's great if you want to build a more sustainable platter without compromising on flavour. I bet you didn't think of chocolate and cheese as the ultimate paring, but in fact blue cheese, with its sharp, pungent aromas and flavours will enhance the undertones of a strong, dark chocolate.
Velvet Orange & Almond Dark is my personal fave.
180 Degrees: So called because they're cooked at 180 degrees (get it?), these crunchy oat crackers are made from oats, walnuts and lots of other good things for your gut. They're strong enough to hold a combination of cheese and dip, but crumbly and crunchy enough to snack on their own. Truly stunning with a brie or a blue.
Waterthins Wafer: Some of you will be so turned off with a wafer suggestion and I understand, but hear me out. As more of a vessel to transport goodies to your mouth then a cracker in itself, a wafer bats above its very light weight. Great to pair with something like the truffle brie when you don't want too many flavours going on.
Lisa's Aubergine and Cashew dip: I'd eat this dip with a spoon if I had my way. It's beautifully creamy and rich, and great paired with avocado on a cracker or to spread on a piece of creamy Havarti. I also like to think it's healthy because it's made from eggplant and cashew - two healthy things. Please nobody write in and negate this comfortable feeling.
Obela hummus: This fresh hummus is perfect for a slightly healthier platter if you want to pop some crudités on there. They even come in 1kg containers if you're a particularly big fan. The roasted pine nuts on top are a fabulous addition.
Quince paste: It basically goes without saying, but a classic quince paste is always necessary. Sweet and fruity, slice it off and pop it on those 180 Walnut Crackers, add a little truffle brie - you're bloody away. If it's a little expenny in stores, Annabel Langbein has a recipe that I've never made, but heard from others that it's very, very good.