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 awhile back I was lucky enough to get a quick tutorial on assembling a beautiful cheese board. We learned how to build our boards with varying heights, colors and designs. There were an array of components to choose from, including cheeses of course, deli meats, fruit, jams, honey, crackers, pickled goodies, and nuts.
Though I haven’t built any boards quite as elaborate and extensive as we did that night (they had dozens and dozens of specialty foods for people to use), I do love to put together cheese boards for my gatherings. It’s especially nice when we have a small group of guests and the board can be placed right in the middle of us, making it so easy to graze as we chat and play games!
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!
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 would be 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.
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 do not 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.) Finally, though I have seen some cheese boards with large gaps between the ingredients I really love the appeal of a board that’s overflowing with good things to eat, as you will see!
When I build my board I begin with the cheese. Visit your local cheese shop to find a few unique and delicious varieties of cheese to feature – I aim for three to four kinds. Many grocery stores also have a good variety of local and international cheeses, usually in a case near the produce section or deli counter. It’s your choice at this point! Choose your favorites or be adventurous with a cheese that is new to you. Aim to get different types of cheeses – hard, semi-firm, soft, blue-veined, to give your board variety. Make sure you have a couple of small knives or cheese cutters to set on the board so guests can help themselves. Hard cheeses can also be sliced and then fanned or stacked on the board.
I like to add crackers to the board next since, like the cheese they also take up a lot of room. Choose a few kinds of sturdy, good quality crackers – wheat, rice, flavored if you’d like. Pita chips are nice on the board and you can also include breads, like slices of tiny cocktail breads or slices of a mini baguette.
Adding meats to the board is up to you, and we all know that cured meats are wonderful paired with cheese, especially prosciutto, capicola, salami, chorizo and summer sausages. Most times I choose to leave them off my cheese board: doing this accommodates guests who are vegetarian and also keeps the appetizer on the light side, a good consideration if a heavier meal is to follow. If you include meats, slice them into bite-sized portions and intersperse them among the crackers and cheeses.
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 to avoid excess juices on the board or discoloration of the slices. Consider adding strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, fresh currants (I especially love the jeweled hue of red currants!) and grapes. Add dried fruits too, if you can. Many varieties of cheese go very well with dates and figs. Dried cherries and cranberries are also quite tasty on the board.
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 carrots, 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/or seasoned nuts.
Spoon a drizzle of fruity jams, spicy chutneys, chili sauce, or honey on the board or over cheeses. In addition to the flavors they bring, they add to the visual appeal and enhance the taste of other ingredients on the board. And like the pickles, if you make your own jams or relishes here is the perfect opportunity to show them off!
I love to add aromatic, fresh herbs to the board like thyme, rosemary, dill, chives, or tarragon. The fresh scents 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, nuts, salty stuff, and sauces. I also like to cut a slice off the cheeses or sink the knife right in – then your guests don’t have to worry about who makes the first cut!
Sit back and bask in the praise of impressed guests! I love how robust and lavish a full cheese board looks! Not only is it visually stunning, it begs guests to dig in and check out what your board has to offer.
Now, here are a few suggestions of flavors to pair with different varieties of cheese. My source for these is the invaluable book, The Flavor Bible, as well as my own tastebuds!
- BLUE CHEESES: almonds, apple, figs, honey, pear, walnuts
- BRIE: apples, cherries, dates, figs, pistachios and other nuts, strawberries
- CHEDDAR: apple, bacon, chutneys, grapes, nuts, spicy ingredients like hot peppers and wasabi
- FETA: figs, dill, grapes, mint, walnuts, olive oil, garlic
- GOAT’S CHEESE: almonds, apples, red peppers, fresh herbs, cranberries, blueberries, figs, garlic, honey, olive oil, lemon or orange zest, pesto, strawberries, pears
- GOUDA: apples, apricots, cherries, mushrooms
- GRUYÈRE: apples, cherries, dark chocolate, garlic, ham, hazelnuts, thyme, walnuts
- MANCHEGO: almonds, anchovies, ham, olives, caramelized onions
- MOZZARELLA: basil, garlic, olive oil, pesto, olives, oregano, prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, sopressata
- PARMESAN: basil, dates, figs, prosciutto, pears, thyme, walnuts, mushrooms