How do you figure out how much cheese to buy for a party?
It depends on how you're going to be serving it. If you're focusing on cheese, you can have as many as eight different kinds and a variety of accompaniments. For this kind of party, I buy about two ounces of each cheese per person. If you're serving a cheese course as part of a sit-down meal, then you need just three cheeses, with half an ounce to an ounce of each per person.
What's the best way to serve cheese?
If it's a warm day, you should take cheese out about 45 minutes to an hour before serving; if it's cooler, make it an hour to an hour and a half. When you taste or serve cheese, start with the mildest on one end of the board and work toward the stronger ones. You usually want to go from softer to harder cheeses; soft cheeses are typically milder than the hard ones. If you have a strong yet soft cheese, you should serve it last. Super-runny or super-strong cheeses should get their own serving vessels. A runny cheese can go into a shallow bowl. (Don't use one made of glass; it will be really hard to clean the cheese off.) A blue cheese should go on its own board.
What about accompaniments?
I'll always put out something sweet, like chutneys, fruit compotes and quince paste. The combination of sweet and savory creates a whole separate third taste that's crazy-making because it's just so good. Then I might also serve nuts like candied walnuts and toasted hazelnuts as well as dried and fresh fruitfigs or slices of pears and apples, whatever's in season. And I'd have two kinds of breadtoasted walnut bread sliced really thinly and slices of baguette.