Cheeseboards are the new chip and dip and they’re so fun to make! Here, I’ll walk you through the planning steps for creating The Perfect Cheeseboard!
A really impressive and delicious cheeseboard offers a variety of foods that pair well with one another. Cheese, dried fruit, candied, salty and spicy nuts, smoked almonds, fresh fruit, jams, mustards, olives, dark chocolate and perhaps a dried meat such as Genoa salami. You’ll want the presentation to be stunning and inviting, so envision the entire board covered in tasty goodies! Don’t put anything on the cheeseboard that’s not edible.
Consider the purpose of your cheeseboard–is it meant to be served as snacks during cocktails, as an appetizer, or is it the only food you’re offering? For snacks and appetizers, a light, but ample portion of ingredients will suffice; however, if it is intended to be your only offering, you’ll want to think about adding more meats and heavier grains, such as French, Sourdough or an artisan bread. This is particularly important if you’re serving alcohol, as the protein and grains will ensure your guests get home safely!
Select the Vessel
A cheeseboard doesn’t have to be an actual “board”, it can be a beautifully painted plate, a charger, an elongated dish, a serving tray, a shallow serving bowl or even a framed mirror! Look around your house and use your imagination! Once you’ve selected the ‘board’, begin to envision how three to four cheeses might look on the board.
At this point, I like to consider going “around the world with cheese”. One stop in France for a bleu cheese, a stop in Spain for a Manchego, an overnight in Italy for some tangy Parmesan and a final stop in Vermont for a classic cheddar.
Selecting cheeses can be overwhelming because there are so many different varieties. If you’re interested in exploring “everything you ever wanted to know about cheese”, then visit The American Cheese Society For our purposes, we’re going to focus on simplicity. We’ll look at four types: soft-ripened, cheddar, bleu and Italian aged cheese.
Types of soft-ripened cheese include Brie, Camembert, Humboldt Fog, or French classics such as St. Andre, Coulommiers or Explorateur.
The cheddar group is a block cheese and includes white, yellow-aged, international and smoked cheddar. There are many more varieties to consider, but this is a good start.
Bleu cheese is typically found in crumbles, so you may have to visit the Specialty Cheese section of your grocer to find a block of bleu. Varieties include Stilton, Roquefort, Stilton, Bleu d’Auvergne and Point Reyes Original Blue.
The final cheese is a hard aged Italian cheese as in Parmesan, Asiago, Peccorino-Romano and Sardo.
Once you’ve selected your vessel and cheese, it’s time to pair those cheeses with something tasty! Let’s start with the soft-ripened cheese, brie. Brie is a mild flavored cheese with a buttery flavor and typically goes well with fresh fruit. Consider adding pears or apple slices to the board. Note: if you use fresh fruit, sprinkle a little fresh lemon juice on the fruit before placing it on the board. The lemon juice will prevent the fruit from browning! Our second cheese is a smoked cheddar. Consider adding some candied nuts, dark chocolate or dried apricots to complement the smokey flavor. Grapes are also an excellent flavor enhancer for smoked cheese. The third selection is tangy and creamy bleu cheese which pairs well with smoked almonds, spicy nuts and sweet dates. The final cheese, an aged Parmesan, is sharp and tangy to the palate. Again, dates or figs go well, or perhaps an apricot or blackberry jam.
Most cheeseboards are ‘finger foods’, meaning no fork required. In some instances, as with soft-ripened cheeses, you might want to offer a vehicle for that soft cheese. Consider crunchy bread sticks, whole grain crackers, crostini, or even a soft sliced bread.
Now that the vessel, cheese and accoutrements are identified, it’s time to plate our masterpiece! Again, consider the vessel and place the cheese in format. In this case, we’re using four cheeses, so place them in a square or rectangle. If using three cheeses, form a triangle
Consider slicing or cubing the cheddar and Italian cheeses. It’s challenging for your guests to slice cheese on the board, so have some already cubed (cheddar) or shaved (aged Italian). Another idea is to cut any cheese rounds into halves; this allows your guests to get to the center of the cheese without having to slice away the rind.
Next, place any accoutrements that are liquid in nature ( jams, jellies, spreads) in a small ramekin and place them within the shape or on the outer edges of the shape. I like to use the rule of halves here. If I have four cheeses, I use a maximum of two spreads. If serving three cheeses, use one spread.
Place the cheeseboard in an area where at least three people at a time can easily get to it with ease. Set the cheeseboard out at least an hour before your guests arrive. You want the cheese to be room temperature so it’s at its optimum flavor. Last but not least, slice your fresh fruit, douse with a little fresh lemon and place it on the board, light some candles, pop a bottle of bubbly and enjoy your guests!