When I first moved to New York, my dear friend and then roommate JennyKate and I threw a wine and cheese party. We were young and broke, so it was nothing fancy by grown-up standards, but we both remember it as one of the most successful, fun parties ever thrown. The moral of this story - you can totally fake fancy, and everyone loves cheese!
Somewhere along the way, I started using a basic formula for a good cheese plate, which covers your bases and can be customized. I usually do 4 cheeses, 1 each from these categories:
1. Soft cheese - Choose brie, camembert, or something else in this family
2. Goat cheese - I love Humboldt Fog (the best!) but any type will do!
3. Hard cheese - Manchego and gruyere are my faves! A sharp cheddar is also delicious.
4. Wild card - Ok, so ideally this would be a bleu cheese, but I find that people are pretty hit or miss about bleu cheese (not counting Mr. Voigt, who is obsessed with it!). So I sometimes go for a smoked cheese here. Basically it should be something with a strong flavor that is different enough from the others. Have fun with this one!
If you only want to do 3, cut out the wild card. If you want to do more, keep adding on! If you feel like thinking about your cheese plate differently, you could mix it up by picking cheeses from different regions. These are a lot of ways to go about it! Keep it fun and delicious!
Of course you want to serve cheese with bread - you can't go wrong with a simple baguette. If you want to get fancy you can add accompaniments - jam, fig paste, honey, fruit. But honestly, your guests will be happy with bread and cheese (I always am!). Serve with some wine, and hope there are leftovers for lunch tomorrow - there is nothing we love more in our house than a smorgas style bread and cheese lunch!