The Americans serve cheese as a starter, the French before dessert and the English as a grand finale. It seems the cheese board is a welcome indulgence any time, particularly at fine restaurants and dinner parties.
When entertaining at home, your cheese board can be as simple or as extravagant as you wish. But preparing the perfect one can be something of an art. These cheese board tips are designed to help you select, display, and enjoy all of your cheeses to the fullest. So cuddle up by the fireplace with a creamy young Gruyère and crackers, or throw an elegant dinner party with Camembert, Asiago and a tour of cheeses from around the world. When you follow these guidelines, your perfect cheese board will impress and delight with every bite.
When preparing a cheese board, plan on serving from three to five cheeses (any more than that will overwhelm the palate). To make your selections, visit a good cheese counter and aim for variety. You want to tempt the taste buds with cheeses of distinctly different styles, tastes, and textures.
For a simple, but interesting cheese board, start with these three selections:
- A soft cheese such as triple cream Brie or Camembert
- A firm cheese like Farmhouse Cheddar or Asiago
- A blue vein cheese like Stilton or Roquefort
To expand your offerings, add a spreadable cheese like fresh chevre, or a “surprise” cheese flavoured with wine, spices or herbs.
Use a Theme
For a more creative twist, build your cheese board around a theme. You might offer cheeses from different milks (cow, sheep, goat) or cheeses from a particular region or country. In 2006, the British Cheese Awards gave top honours to a cheese board solely comprised of Lancashire cheeses. Though made by dairies within 10 miles of each other, each of the 10 Lancashire cheeses displayed different tastes and textures, whether creamy, savory or crumbly.
- As an appetizer or course, plan on serving 70g of cheese per person; as a main meal, plan on 200g per person.
- If you’re on a budget, buy a few good quality cheeses rather than many of a lesser quality.
- Make your cheese board a memorable experience: avoid the common and go for artisan cheeses that are new to your guests.
Now that you have selected your cheeses, display them in a way that will inspire “oohs” and “ahs.” To begin, choose a tray or platter large enough to keep cheeses of different shapes and sizes from touching. Wood boards are traditional, while marble is more elegant, offering a cool surface and a contrasting background colour to make your cheeses “pop” off the platter.
When arranging your selections, be sure to display them in a manner that makes them most accessible to guests. Put smaller cheeses in the middle, and then place soft cheeses around them. Hard cheeses should be arranged around the outside of the cheese board to make them easier to cut.
To make your cheese board an edible piece of art, garnish it with natural ingredients. Parsley, grapes, apples, tomatoes, celery and dried berries all add beautiful colour and flavour right on the board. In separate dishes, you might also offer olives, pickled onions or pickled walnuts or lightly roasted nuts such as walnuts or almonds. Balance your offerings with a variety of breads, biscuits and crackers that aren’t too strong or salty. Again, avoid the common and treat your guests something special – maybe slices of tangy sourdough or biscuits flavoured with cracked black pepper.
As for beverages, beer, cocktails and wine are all classic accompaniments. In general, fresh cheeses pair well with Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir, blue cheeses with Sauternes and Port, and aged cheeses with Zinfandel or Burgundy. For an extravagant soiree, offer a different wine for each cheese. And when in doubt, a wine of the region the cheese comes from is usually a good match.
- Remove the wrapping from cheeses, but leave on rinds
- Serve each cheese with its own knife to avoid mixing flavours
- Bring cheeses to room temperature for optimal flavour – take out of the refrigerator up to two hours before serving
After the Party
After your event, return the cheese board to a clean, cool place. While you should discard any leftover soft cheeses, unused hard cheeses can be re-wrapped and replaced in the refrigerator for your next cheese board. And if your remaining cheese happens to be too small or oddly shaped for a board, simply shred, melt or bake it into a wonderfully cheesy recipe. Four-Cheese Pizza, anyone?