Be a cheese whiz with these professional tips for easy planningand saving a few bucks:
Stick to odd numbers
Serve three or five cheese options. This creates a balanced look, says Rob Kaufelt, owner of the renowned Murrays Cheese shops in New York City.
Bonus: Limiting variety keeps costs down, too.
Balance textures and flavors
Include a soft, semisoft, and hard cheese on your board, advises David Myers, chef and owner of Sona in Los Angeles. And have a mix of mild (chèvre or manchego) and strong cheese (any blue cheese or a sharp Cheddar).
You want your cheese to be as fresh as possible, so just buy what you need. Get 1–2 ounces of each cheese per person, suggests Kaufelt.
Wheel and deal
Make friends with your local cheesemonger, who will let you try before you buy. She can also point out interestingand budget-friendlyoptions. Also, consider mass retailers like Costco and BJ's: They offer great domestic and international cheeses well below grocery-store prices.
Take cheese out of the fridge 30 minutes to an hour before serving.
Streamline the sips
Stick with one red and one white wine to avoid competing with the flavors of the cheeses.
Good bets: Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir because they wont overwhelm the fromage. Andrea Robinson, Healths wine columnist and author of 2009 Wine Buying Guide for Everyone, likes Erath Oregon Pinot Noir 2007 ($19) and Girard Sauvignon Blanc 2007 ($15).
Create an instant party
Set out your cheeses on a large wooden board, and add a mix of salty and sweet nibbles like Kalamata and Picholine olives, chilled grapes, almonds, bread and crackers, dried fruit, and fig jam.