A perfect date night out usually consists of my hubs and I going to small restaurants and lounges sampling small bites and cocktails at each one. I rarely order an entree and instead choose lots of appetizers.. even the most simple roasted nuts or olives can be stellar when paired with the right atmosphere and beverage.

When the need for an indulgent night out hits midweek or during a busy weekend when childcare is not an option, I head to the grocery store to create a date night at home. A variety of yummy bites and a good bottle of wine or bubbly is all that is needed. We try to ignore the screaming kids, endless sibling fights and general chaos that is our home and enjoy good food, drink and conversation.. usually hiding on the back porch where it takes a few minutes for them to find us.

Cheese plates are also my go to for small parties. It's fun for guests to try new things and the endless combinations makes it easy for everyone to get creative. Kids can usually find something they like (fruit, olives and pickles are wiped out first when kids are around), and it's so easy to put together.

Start by visiting the store, farmers market or local cheese producers to pick up what's in season, is interesting or just looks good to you. Get creative. There are no hard rules, but I've found that having a 'roadmap' of the different elements ensures that your cheese plate has good variety and is well rounded.

The focus is cheese so naturally this is where you want to start. Charcuterie platters are slightly different than cheese plates because they showcase cured meats and pair them with savory bites and spreads (to create a charcuterie platter simply use the guide below adding more meats and leaving out cheese, fruits and sweet condiments).

Find three to five cheeses that you love or look appealing. Choose a variety of ages (fresh and aged), textures (soft and hard), and milks (goat, cow, sheep). If you are serving kids or less adventurous adults make sure to include some crowd favorites, maybe an aged cheddar, fresh mozzarella and smoked gouda.

Add some crackers or bread to serve as a vessel for getting the cheese in your mouth, a jarred condiment to slather on, 1 or 2 cured meats, nuts, a couple savory options and some fresh or dried fruit.

Then open a couple bottles of wine, champagne or cider and let the fun begin!

soft cheese (Brie, Camembert, Taleggio)

aged cheese (Asiago, Fontina, aged Cheddar, aged Gouda, Comte)

firm cheese (Manchego, Gruyere, Pecorina, Sharp Cheddar, Parmesan)

blue cheese (Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola)

fresh cheese (Burrata, Boursin, Chevre Frais, Feta, Fresh Mozzarella, Fromage Blanc, Queso Fresco, Cotija, Cheese Curds)

vessels (baguette rounds, crackers, breadsticks)

jarred condiments (spread, jam, compote, honey or honeycomb, mustard) 

cured meat (salami, pepperoni, calabrese, capicolla, prosciutto, artisan beef jerky)

nuts and seeds (almonds, pecans, pistachios, pumpkin seeds)

savory bites (olives, pickles, pickled beets, artichoke hearts, roasted garlic, caramelized onions)

dried fruit (dates, apricots, pears, cherries)

fresh fruit (apples, grapes, cherries, figs, blackberries, nectarine)

For the plate above I chose both local favorites and easy grocery store finds

- soft cheese : Laura Chenel's Goat Brie
- firm cheese: Ferndale Farmstead Scarmoza
- aged cheese: Kerrygold Dubliner
- blue cheese: Twin Sisters Creamery Whatcom Blue

- crackers: sesmark rice crackers

jarred condiments
- spread: Dalmatia Fig spread
- jam: Oregon Growers Quince pate

cured meat
- salami: Columbus Italian Dry Salami
- calabrese: Oli salamini calabrese
- artisan beef jerky: Pacific Gold Reserve jerky

nuts and seeds 
- marcona almonds

savory bites
- olives
- roasted garlic

dried fruit
- apricots
- pears

fresh fruit
- apples: Bellewood Acres honeycrisp
- grapes

What's your favorite way to have a 'date night in' when going out just isn't an option? Comment below to share your ideas!

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