Get something firm with some intensity
While the cheeses above are damn fine offerings in their own rights, the mark of a true cheese-plate maestro is creating a cohesive sense of balance. The trick is creating a medley of cheeses with complementary flavor profiles and textures -- basically, mixing things up while keeping the overall plate consistent. So you will definitely need a bracing, firm cheese to round out the lineup. Don’t worry: It's not that hard!
"My favorites came down to a Euro classic: raw cow milk cave-aged Gruyere ($3 per ¼lb) and Trader Joe’s Toscano with red syrah ($4 per ½lb). The former is beefy and full of roasted nut intensity with a dense, chewy texture," Thorpe said. "The latter is made by an excellent cheesemaker in Wisconsin, a kind of Parmesan-ish cheese that tastes like melted butter with a fruity edge from a washing in TJ's coastal syrah."
Both of these pair very well with another TJ's specialty: fig butter, a just-sweet-enough fig jam that Thorpe called "an ideal vehicle" for these firm, flavor-intensive cheeses. Oh, and obviously you should pair them with syrah.