We grilled a professional cheese judge for his expert advice. Here’s how to curate a cheese plate to rule them all.

cheese-plateIn the Western Living offices, we live a cheese-centric lifestyle. Whatever the occasion—celebrating our National Magazine award nominations, welcoming a new writer to the team—we know that parties are always a little bit better with a little bit of cheddar (or gouda, or havarti, or blue cheese).But when Chef Julian Bond, judge for the Canadian Cheese Grand-Prix and instructor with Vancouver’s Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, dropped by the other day to show off some of the 27 champion Canadian cheeses he helped select for this year’s competition, it put our cheese boards to shame. So in between bites of bread slathered in soft, bloomy Comox brie, we grilled the big cheese (pun most certainly intended) for his tips on upping our game come party time.

Tips for the Perfect Cheese Plate

You don’t need to buy out the whole cheese case. “Three or four cheeses are more than enough for a well-balanced platter.”Include a hard cheese. In fact, even people who are dairy-intolerant may be able to eat certain hard cheeses.You need a blue. “Always,” says Bond firmly. “Any kind will do. And if you don’t like blue cheese, put a little bit of honey on there and you’re a happy camper.”Let your blue cheese breathe. “Bring the temperature up and take the chill off,” says Bond. “Even if you’ve eaten blue cheese all your life, it’s going to taste different.”Add in a cheese with flavour. But make sure the cheese is good quality—you want the flavour to enhance, not to mask anything.Don’t forget a soft cheese, too. “You need something you can spread,” Bond notes. (Fun fact: Brie and Camembert are words increasingly being used to describe cheese from specific regions—much like only sparkling wine from Champagne, France, should be called champagne. “Now, we try to use terminology like ‘bloomy,’ ‘full cream,’ or ‘soft rind’ to describe those sorts of cheeses,” explains Bond.)You’re going to want some crackers to go with that. “Crackers or toast are essential!”Don’t overdo it on the salty elements. A few olives are good, but sweet things are better to complement salty cheeses, says Bond. “It needs to be structured and balanced.”Incorporate something sweet onto the plate. Chef Bond prefers honey to jam (“It’s essential, too!”), but a cheese plate is a personal thing. “There’s no wrong way to do it.”