Making a cheese board is like creating art. It’s a journey through taste and texture that can achieve a wide spectrum of complex and bold flavors. Cheese boards are a palate pleaser, and for that reason they’re often the centerpiece of dinner parties.
Cheese boards can get expensive, but you don’t need to buy a hunk of white Stilton gold (a creamy blue cheese from Britain with edible gold flakes that comes in at $429.50 per pound) to impress your friends. Cheese boards can be as simple or as complex as you like, and with proper planning and a little fromage knowledge, you can create an outstanding cheese plate.
“The foundation of a good cheese plate will showcase several different cheeses of varying textures, milks and ages,” explains Sande Friedman, a manager at DiBruno Brothers in Philadelphia. Since 1939, DiBruno Brothers has been specializing in meats and cheeses, and is one of the top places in Philadelphia to get educated on all things specialty cheese. “Ultimately,” explains Friedman, “you are looking for flavors that all complement and playfully contrast one another.”
Higher quantity, longer shelf life
Quality cheese can get pricey, so Friedman suggests getting one soft cheese and one firm cheese, each with distinctly different flavors. It may sound counter-intuitive, but buying larger portions of cheeses that have a longer shelf life can help you save money in the long run, especially if you’ll be making more cheese boards in the future. “Hard cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano, Manchego and Comte can last through several cheese boards,” says Friedman, “which is great if you’re doing a lot of entertaining.”
That said, if you’re working with a hard cheese that has been in the refrigerator for a while, be sure to “face” them before serving. “Facing means to scrape off the surface that has had exposure to the air,” explains Friedman. “The surface may not taste as good as the interior.”
Soft cheeses don’t have as long of a shelf life, but a cost-effective soft cheese to consider would be brie. Brie is soft and creamy cheese that is a common addition to cheese boards. Goat cheese is also a good choice for soft cheese. It’s spreadable, and it introduces a different type of milk and age to your cheese board.
Pairing with the right accompaniments
Limited cheese doesn’t mean limited flavors. Another way to bring a variety of tastes to your cheese board is to get creative with your accompaniments. “Cheese can be quite savory,” says Friedman, “so you’ll want to add some sweetness. Honey is a household staple for many of us, so it can be a great accompaniment without having to spend a lot of money.”
Introducing different jams is another way to add sweetness to your cheese board. On the other side of the flavor spectrum are vegetables and pickles, which can add some acidity and tartness.
Focusing on flavor is only a fraction of what goes into making a cheese board. Texture is another element you should consider. “For crunch, add toasted nuts,” explains Friedman. “You can always get crafty by lightly toasting whatever chopped nuts you may have around the house.” Tossing those nuts in with some herbs and sea salt is a simple way to jazz up your accompaniments and will be a welcome middle ground between your sweet and tart flavors. Another way to stretch out your cheese is to serve your board with bread and crackers. One of Friedman’s money-saving tips is not to throw out day-old bread: “Instead, slice it into thin pieces, brush with olive oil, and bake it for a few minutes.”
Presentation is the final step, and also one of the most crucial. To make your cheese board even more stylish, Friedman recommends filling up empty space with flowers or decorations.
When it comes time to serve your cheese board, there are several common mistakes that you should avoid. Regardless of the kind of cheese you get, never serve your cheese cold. Friedman recommends taking your cheese out of the refrigerator about half an hour before you plan on eating it. “Cold cheese is frigid and has no personality,” says Friedman. “Let it warm up so that all of the deliciousness inside the cheese can come to the surface.”
Another common mistake many make is cutting off the rind of the cheese. “Some people enjoy eating the rind,” explains Friedman. “Why waste a portion of completely edible cheese?” It’s also not necessary to precut all of your cheese before serving. Friedman recommends cutting off only a few pieces of cheese and leaving out cutting utensils. “Your guests should get into the rhythm of how they should continue to cut the cheese,” explains Friedman. “Plus, it makes prep easier and it looks impressive. Everyone loves to look at a beautiful hunk of cheese!”