Seven Steps to Creating a Stunning Cheeseboard
We’ve officially entered the high-entertaining portion of the year – the season of shared meals and Instagram worthy tablescapes. Cheeseboards are an easy way to create a stunning centerpiece around which your guests can mingle and nibble on bits of cheese and dried fruit, sipping a cocktail or some wine, as you put the finishing touches on your meal.
Let me start off by saying that although I created the entire board in the photo above with items I found at my local Trader Joe's, they are not giving me anything to write this post - as far as I know they are blissfully unaware of my existence. Now, having said that, if you have a Trader Joe's near you and aren’t using it – you’re missing out.
Trader Joe's has one of the most incredible selections of cheeses I’ve seen outside of my local cheese monger (yes – I have a local cheese monger – it’s possible I may have a slight cheese problem) – everything from traditional cheddar and mozzarella to triple cream brie, Italian truffle, English stilton, and aged gouda.
In addition to the cheeses, Trader Joe's carries a range of crackers, fresh baguettes, dried fruit, fruit butters and as of yesterday, they started carrying olive wood boards – perfect for laying out a cheeseboard. Almost any combination of two to three cheeses, some crackers or a baguette, some nuts, dried fruit and a fruit butter or savory spread will come in under $30. Compared to fine food stores where the same items would cost two to three times more, this is really a steal. For a look at what was used in the board above, scroll down to the bottom of the page.
People often ask me how I create the cheeseboards that I lay out, so I wanted to share a few of my tips:
1. Select the base. I’ve used everything from slate boards, to olive wood boards, ceramic dishes and even a clean, marble counter as the base for my cheeseboards. Identifying your base before you shop will help you determine how much space you have and in turn, how much cheese and accompaniments to purchase.
2. Select other serving pieces. In addition to the board, small colorful bowls, mason jars and small dishes not only provide more space to spread out the goods, but they also add character to the overall look of the board and provide more space to serve.
3. Select the cheeses. If I’m only doing one cheese, I always go with a triple cream – Le Delice de Bourgogne is always a hit. Served on its own with some toasted crostini or dried fruit crackers, it’s perfect for a small dinner party. If I have a larger crowd, then I will try at a minimum to have four kinds of cheese – a triple cream, a goat cheese, a hard cheese and a blue cheese. Blue cheese is not for everyone – so it’s perfectly fine to just go with the first three. These are just suggestions – really any cheeses can be used – just try to pick a theme so there is some cohesion to the finished board.
4. Select the accompaniments. This is really where the possibilities are endless.
· Sweet and Savory Board - Intersperse the cheeses with dried figs, apricots or cranberries. Trader Joe's carries beautiful preserved lemons and oranges – not only were they striking on the board, but they serve double duty as they can also be used in cocktails. There are also several fruit butters, including the fig butter used in the board above. A fruit butter is similar to a jam, but has more spices added to it than traditional jams and jellies. Spread some across the board near the goat cheese for a lovely combination. Finish off the board with some nuts – candied walnuts, or sweet and spicy pecans are a great addition to this board.
· Savory Board - For a savory board, olives are a great choice – there are so many different varieties – pick and couple and put them in small bowls on the board. Make your own crostini and rub with garlic and sprinkle with paprika or chili powder. Instead of fruit butters, use red pepper or eggplant spreads and add some wasabi almonds or Thai chili and lime cashews for a board with a kick.
5. Assemble the Board – For an eye-catching cheeseboard, cut up the cheese in different shapes – cubes, long slices, triangles, and maybe leave one whole. The cheese should ideally be served at room temperature, but it’s easier to cut the cheese into cubes or slices when it’s cold. For the board above, I cut everything up and then refrigerated it until 2 hours before my guests arrived, at which point I assembled the board. Once the main ingredients are down, set about filling in the spaces with other things like fresh herbs, candied fruit, miniature pumpkins or gourds – whatever is in season and looks good to you!
6. Charcuterie – The decision on whether to include charcuterie on your board is entirely a personal one. While a good soppressata or prosciutto can be a nice addition to the board, they’re not necessary for your board to be hit.
7. Have Fun and Don’t Overthink It – The holidays are stressful enough without worrying about how the cheeseboard looks. There is no right or wrong – that’s the beauty of the cheeseboard – it starts as a blank canvas, but by the time the cheeses and other goodies have been laid out, what lies before us is a beautiful, Instagram worthy, piece of edible art.