Build a gorgeous cheese board filled with a variety of ingredients, flavors and textures that will be the most beautiful dish on the appetizer table!
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Cheese boards are one of my favorite creations to bring to a party! They are stunning and full of delicious offerings that guests love to explore.
At an event hosted by McKenzie Meats, I was lucky enough watch a cheese board building demo. We learned how to build cheese boards with varying heights, colors and designs.
There were an array of foods going into those boards: cheeses of course, deli meats, fruit, jams, honey, crackers, pickled goodies, and nuts.
Though I don't build cheese boards quite as elaborate as we saw that night (there were literally dozens and dozens of specialty foods), I do love to create them for my gatherings.
When to serve a cheese board
They are beautiful and fancy, but don't assume that cheese boards are only special occasions - they're actually perfect for gatherings of any size. Your board can be larger or smaller cheese boards to fit the number of guests you're having over.
Create a board for game nights, showers, movie nights, game days, house warming parties, potlucks... hey, as long as you people who like to snack, you just can't go wrong with a cheese board.
I especially like to have one out for small gatherings of friends. I set the board right in the middle of all of us, making it so easy to graze as we chat and play games!
How to build a cheese board
Here are my tips for creating a beautiful cheese board for your next gathering or to bring to a party. I also have below a quick guide to flavor pairings for different cheese varieties. Let's get cheesy!
A note about presentation
As you will read below I build my board beginning with the largest ingredients and then filling in with the smaller ones. As you build your board, don't worry about arranging things symmetrically. The board will look more attractive with an asymmetrical arrangement, as well as with ingredients in multiple spots on the board.
Play with heights (stacks of cheese slices or crackers, piles of fruit) and with design (graceful curves, pops of color, contrasting textures.) Though I have seen some cheese boards with large gaps between ingredients, I really love the appeal of a board that's overflowing with good things to eat, as you will see!
Time needed: 20 minutes.
How To Create a Beautiful Cheese Board
- Choose a board
Select a good-sized board that can hold a variety of foods, and that gives you enough space to be creative. This is your canvas! I love to use a dark slate board because it makes the colors and textures of the foods pop. Your best wood or marble cutting board would also be a great choice, especially if you have one with a unique grain or pattern.
Another option is a large platter, ideally one that is relatively flat. You could also put two or three smaller cutting boards together instead of one large board.
- Begin with the cheeses
When I build my board I begin with the cheese. Visit a local cheese shop to find a few unique and delicious cheeses to feature - I aim for three to four kinds. Many grocery stores also have a good variety of local and international cheeses. (See below for cheese flavor pairing ideas.)
Choose your favorites or be adventurous with a cheese that is new to you. Aim to get different types: hard, semi-firm, soft, blue-veined, to give your board variety. Have a couple of small knives or cheese cutters to set on the board so guests can help themselves. Hard cheeses can be sliced and then fanned or stacked on the board.
- Add the crackers
I add crackers to the board next since, like the cheeses, they take up a lot of room. Choose a few kinds of sturdy, quality crackers: wheat, rice, and flavored varieties. Pita chips look nice on the board. You can also include breads, like slices of tiny cocktail breads or slices of a mini baguette.
- Add meats, if you'd like
If you and your guests eat meat, they'll be great on a cheese board. Cured meats are wonderful paired with cheese, especially prosciutto, capicola, salami, chorizo, and summer sausage. Slice them into bite-sized portions and intersperse them among the crackers and cheeses.
Leaving meats off the board is a good choice to accommodate vegetarian and vegan guests, or to keep the appetizers on the lighter side.
- Next, the fresh and dried fruits
Fruits are a natural pairing with cheese and will look really lovely on your board. I like to choose fruits that are easy to eat and can be left whole - no excess juices to leak into other food. Try strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, fresh currants (I especially love the jeweled hue of red currants!) and grapes.
Add dried fruits too, like dates and figs. Dried cherries and cranberries are also quite tasty on the board.
- Add the salty stuff
You have sweet stuff on your board: now balance it with some salty delicacies. Add cornichons, good olives, your favorite dill gherkins, or pickled veggies like giardiniera, cauliflower and dilly beans. If you do your own pickling get those goodies on the board!
You can also add a scattering of salted and seasoned nuts like pistachios or smoked almonds.
- Drizzle jams, sauces, and honeys
Spoon fruity jams, spicy chutneys, chili sauce, or floral honeys on the board, or over cheeses. In addition to the flavors they bring, they are pretty to look at and enhance the taste of other ingredients on the board.
If you make your own seasonal jams or relishes here is the perfect opportunity to show them off!
- Fresh herbs, and filling the gaps
I love to add fresh herbs to the board like thyme, rosemary, dill, chives, or tarragon. The aromatic sprigs really whet the appetite! They can serve simply as a garnish, but many herbs also pair well with the cheeses and fruits on the board.
Take this opportunity to fill in any gaps with additional fruits, a scattering of nuts, salty stuff, and sauces.
Finally, it's always awkward as a guest to wait around for someone to make the first cut into the beautiful cheeses. So do it for them! Serve the board with a slice cut off the cheeses, or sink the knife right in to soft cheeses.
Sit back, and bask in the praise of your hungry fans! I love how robust and lavish a full cheese board looks. Not only is it visually stunning, it gets conversation flowing and begs guests to dig in.
Flavors to pair with cheeses
Here are a few suggestions of flavors and ingredients to pair with different cheeses. My source for these is the invaluable book, The Flavor Bible, as well as my own taste buds!
- BLUE CHEESES - pair with almonds, apple, figs, honey, pear, walnuts
- BRIE - pair with apples, cherries, dates, figs, pistachios and other nuts, strawberries
- CHEDDAR - pair with apple, bacon, chutneys, grapes, nuts, spicy ingredients like hot peppers and wasabi
- FETA - pair with figs, dill, grapes, mint, walnuts, olive oil, garlic
- GOAT'S CHEESE - pair with almonds, apples, red peppers, fresh herbs, cranberries, blueberries, figs, garlic, honey, olive oil, lemon or orange zest, pesto, strawberries, pears
- GOUDA - pair with apples, apricots, cherries, mushrooms
- GRUYÈRE - pair with apples, cherries, dark chocolate, garlic, ham, hazelnuts, thyme, walnuts
- MANCHEGO - pair with almonds, anchovies, ham, olives, caramelized onions
- MOZZARELLA - pair with basil, garlic, olive oil, pesto, olives, oregano, prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, sopressata
- PARMESAN - pair with basil, dates, figs, prosciutto, pears, thyme, walnuts, mushrooms
🧀 Have fun creating your cheese board!
Share your photos, and leave a comment for me below: what's your favorite food to add to a cheese board?