The Art of the Cheese Board

Tips and tricks to make a beautiful, deliciously balanced cheese board.

As far as I’m concerned, not much beats a well-put together cheese board or charcuterie plate when it comes to entertaining.  Hosting shouldn’t be hard on the hostess, in my opinion, and a cheese board is about as easy a spread as they come, plus they basically double as a beautiful table decoration when they’re done right.  I’ve come across several articles on how to set up a beautiful, tasty cheese board or charcuterie plate, but over the years (and after dozens of painstaking experiments involving lots of wine, fruit, cheese, cured meats and girl talk) I’ve developed my own method for creating a cheese board that myself and my friends always enjoy.

I think the key to a great cheese or charcuterie board is to simply be a bit thoughtful about what you’re putting on the plate; don’t just throw any old cheese and crackers on there. I typically ask myself:  Do the cheeses, fruits, meats and other accoutrements on the board go with the wine or other beverages you’re serving?  If you’re eating it as an appetizer or hors d’oeuvre, does it compete with your main course or balance it nicely?  If it’s going to be served before another food, do you have a pallet cleanser on the plate? Do you have at least two or three different types of cheeses? Is there some type of accompaniment for each cheese you’ve chosen?  It sounds like a lot of questions, but it’s not complicated if you keep a few quick pointers in mind.

Start with the cheese (the star of the plate): get a hard cheese, a soft cheese and a stinky cheese, and add a good quality white cheddar (which almost everybody likes) to make sure there’s something for everyone to enjoy. I like to use a hard Italian cheese as my hard cheese, a creamy brie or goat cheese as my soft cheese and a standard bleu cheese as my stinky cheese.  I use a sharp or extra sharp white cheddar as my last go-to cheese. I find that most people will enjoy at least one of these, plus they pair well with a range of meats, fruits, jams, nuts etc., which makes it easy to choose the right accompaniments.cheese-plate-2I like to be creative with the non-cheese foods on the board but, once again, I want to make sure there’s something for everyone to sink their teeth into and enjoy.  I always include nuts and almonds of some sort, which pair well with most of the cheeses on the board.  I prefer marcona almonds or smoked almonds, along with hazelnuts, which also act as a great palette cleanser.  For fruit, which I think needs to be included on any cheese plate, I love to include strawberries, apples, pears or even dried cranberries. Once again, most people will like one of these, and they pair well with almost everything on the board.  The hard cheese requires the addition of a cured meat, like salami, and I always include some olives to go along as well.  I also adore jams and honeys with certain cheeses, so I typically provide honey (you can get honey specifically made to be eaten with cheese) or some type of chutney or jam alongside the board.

Lastly, a cheese board should be pretty. Like, really pretty.  It should be colorful, and not too neat – you want people to feel like they can just dig right in.  I place the cheese first, along the outside or corners of the plate, and I always cut a few pieces as opposed to just setting a block of cheese on the board, so that my guests can just grab what they want.Next, I place the fruits and other accompaniments near the cheese I think they pair best with, and I try to separate flavors that I don’t think would combine well.  For example, I place the salami and olives nearest the cheddar and hard cheeses but I keep them as far away from the brie as possible, because brie + olive juice sounds gross and probably tastes even worse.  Then I add the crackers in stacks across the board.  The last thing I add are the smallest pieces, which are usually the nuts and almonds.  Things that might be juicy, like sweet peppers, I keep in a small bowl so that the juice doesn’t dribble across the table and get everything wet.  In the winter, or for really special occasions, I like to include decorations on the board as well – sprigs or petals of flowers or trees always elevate the board, as do tea or votive candles, so long as you don’t keep them right next to anything that should stay cold.

Your cheese board should look inviting, rustic and colorful.  If you take the time to prepare something thoughtful and balanced, a cheese board can be a beautiful centerpiece and help create a casual, yet sophisticated atmosphere at your next party (or Tuesday night – which is also a perfectly acceptable time to prepare something beautiful just for Y-O-U).

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