Building a Balanced Cheese Board
Whether entertaining a crowd or planning an intimate evening, a great cheese board brings something special to your table.
What comprises a well balanced and satisfying cheese board, you may ask? First, know that the best cheese boards are enjoyed visually before your guests ever take their first nibble. Make sure you have a balance of different types of cheeses, an assortment of crackers (crackers are not one-type-fits-all!), and a selection of accompaniments for a well-balanced cheese board.
Also, while cheese boards may include meats, they are distinct from the more-protein laden charcuterie board, where meats are the focus. While the star of your cheese board will be the cheeses, imagine a provoking variety of supporting acts, like crusty bread still warm from the oven, luscious figs, salty olives, and sweet honeycomb. Here are my top tips for building a perfect cheese board:
Start with the Board
Is your cheese board itself as appealing as it could be? It all starts with the right serving tray. Useable boards and trays are food-grade safe and easy to carry around the room or pass around the table, as well as attractive. Consider serving boards like:
Wooden cutting boards
Pieces of slate
Vintage metal trays
Whatever material you choose, the most attractive cheeseboards tend to either be round, which gives a sense of opulence, or asymmetrical. While you can use a rectangular board if that is what you have on hand, consider investing in a really lovely large board, if you love serving cheese boards.
Right-Sizing Your Cheese Board
There is a simple formula that you can use to keep the size of your cheese board appropriate for the number of people it will feed. Typically, for a family-sized crowd of five or six, try to showcase and serve three different kinds of cheese. To this, add a couple of different meats, at least two types of cracker or bread, something sweet such as dried fruits, and something crunchy, like nuts. This formula hits all the right notes and flavor profiles that you want for your cheese board.
For the cheese selections, try to represent different strengths and textures. For instance, when serving three different cheeses, choose a mild, soft cheese, like creamy brie, and a firm, medium strength cheese like a sharp cheddar. For the third variety, choose something more unusual or funky, like a blue cheese or a goats milk cheese. Give guests the opportunity to try something new and different, while also providing something that you know they will love.
If you’re heading to your local cheese shop, or even the cheese counter at a fancy grocery store, the person you’ll likely talk to is called a cheesemonger. Unlike the preservative laden cheeses you might find in the regular refrigerator section, artisan cheese needs special handling and temperatures, which the cheesemongers are in charge of. Since cheese is their job, speaking with a cheesemonger about your cheese board can be incredibly helpful, and fun!
While many cheeses can be enjoyed on its own, typically most of your cheeses on your board will be eatting with crackers or bread. So, why would you pair a fine cheese with a stale cracker from the back of the cupboard? Especially if the cheese board is the main event of your evening, I love to included crusty bread alongside crackers. A baguette is a classic addition, or you can try ciabatta bread or any other mild flavored bread.
Ideally, you’ll also have at least two kinds of crackers, one with more flavor and complexity, like a cracker baked with dried fruits or nuts, and one that is more simple, with a clean flavor profile.
Yes, you can have meat on a cheese board but you are not obligated to add charcuterie and it does not need to equal the presence of your cheese. Prosciutto is a classic addition to any cheese board and soppressata is a delicious cured meat that your guests might not have tried before. Also look to charcuterie that employs herbs, like a finnochiona with fennel.
The visual aesthetic of your cheese board is (almost) as important as the components. Take care to arrange the cheeses to provide ample room for cutting them without disturbing the other items on the board. Offer plenty of cutlery for guests to serve themselves without needed to mix cheese knives for different items on the board. Mound crackers, nuts, or fruits so that the colors are visually appealing and you get some height on your board. Never garnish or add anything to your cheese board that cannot be eaten or that is inedible.
You may be tempted to cut all the bread and cheese ahead of time, but a more organic presentation will be more fun for your guests, as well as more visually appealing. Try cutting just one slice of cheese out of the wheel or crumbling a bit of the blue cheese around its previously-perfect wedge. A cheese board can make a dramatic and practical centerpiece; construct one to be the focal point for your next party, too!
Provide something sweet on your cheese board to serve as a palate cleanser from rich cheeses with something sweet and perhaps acidic, like sweet orange segments, dried apricots, or candied almonds. Candied citrus peel makes a great addition to a cheese board, both in terms of color and flavor, providing a sweet and tangy finish to your rich and savory snacks. Honey or honeycomb is a popular accompaniment to cheese and pairs well with many of the options you might choose for your board. Grapes served on the vine adds a classic yet decadent addition to the board.
Cheese can be expensive, particularly if you are looking for imported varieties to showcase on a cheese board. If you want to create an impressive cheese board on a budget, splurge on one wedge or type of cheese for your board and use less-expensive options for pairing.
We hope you enjoy yourself today and keep checking back for ongoing tips, guides and great shopping!