Is there any eating experience more pleasurable than grazing on a good cheese board? Or any food that lends itself better to sharing with friends and family? When I think cheese, my memory rarely lingers on the taste; instead, I think of that weekend in St. Helena with my husband, celebrating the completion of our first half marathon; those evenings spent wine and cheese tasting at Zinc Cafe in Corona del Mar with all of my rowdy friends, followed by late nights at our tiny rental down the street; that lunch at the Corkscrew Cafe during my friend Anna’s birthday tour of Carmel Valley wineries; those long, late, delirious dinners with my friend Claire during our trip to the Amalfi Coast; those cherished happy hours with my husband at the Cellar in San Clemente during rare date nights after having children; and the perfect wedge of Humboldt Fog (my favorite!) that my friend Bryn delivered to me after I gave birth to my third baby.
And while a cheese board might not provide the nutrients needed to ward off disease or reverse the aging process, time spent gathered around one with good wine and even better friends is always worth it. I will say, though, that I personally like to round out my cheese assortment with lots of fruits and vegetables, which help to cleanse your palate, balance the richness of the cheese, and leave you feeling good at the end of the night.
So here are some tips for building your own cheese board at home, perfect for your next special occasion (or Friday night, whichever comes first!). Or take it to a party and wow all of your friends.
Tips for Building a Cheese Board
Aim for variety in texture and taste. Here’s a formula I like to use to create variety on the plate:
One aged: aged cheddar, goat gouda
One soft: camembert, goat cheese
One firm: manchego, pecorino-romano
One blue: gorgonzola, stilton
What to serve with the cheese:
A variety of bread and crackers, of varying shapes, sizes, and textures
Honey or honeycomb
Dried and fresh fruit
Jam or compote
Tips for serving:
When cheese will be the appetizer, buy 3 ounces per person; if it’s the main course, buy 4-5 ounces per person
Remove cheese from the refrigerator an hour before serving (cold masks flavor)
Use a big, flat serving tray or cutting board to serve. If you don’t have either, you can use a variety of small bowls and plates.
If you’ve pre-sliced the cheese, then offer a wide, flat knife or fork with each cheese for serving. If eaters will be slicing their own cheese, here is a quick primer on what type of knife to offer with each cheese:
Spreader knife for soft cheeses
Cheese plane for semi-firm cheeses
Spade knife for hard cheeses
Tips for Designing the Presentation of the Cheese Board
While cheese purists will recommend letting the cheese stand alone, I like to go in the complete opposite direction, and design a cheese board overflowing with all of the colors and textures of the season. I believe we eat with our eyes first, so presentation is super important!
I studied the stunning cheese boards from Sorella Collective to get an idea of how to arrange things. Some of the lessons I learned are:
Include a variety of colors, sizes, and textures on the cheese board. It’s relatively easy to do this with fruits and vegetables if you just go to the produce section of the market and buy a few of this, a few of that, and keep an eye on what you’re collecting in your cart, making sure you’re focusing on diversity.
Don’t be afraid to have some things draping off the side of the board. It looks like it’s overflowing… it’s enticing!
Rather than grouping like items together in little circles, try arranging them in lines across the board. I tried to do it here with the carrots and pistachios in the middle, and again around the borders with the endive and pomelos.
Try to balance the colors. If you have a group of red things on one side of the board, place some red on the opposite side of the board too.
For this particular cheese board, I wanted to create something that would reflect the holiday season, so I skipped the usual grapes and went for an array of late fall/early winter produce. Here is what I used:
Pomegranates (I split open a couple and left them in halves for visual effect)
Pears (a few different varieties/colors, sliced thinly)
Apples (a few different varieties/colors, sliced thinly)
Tangerines (peeled for easy eating)
Oranges (halved for visual effect)
Crab apples (so small and cute!)
Persimmons (sliced thinly crosswise through the middle)
Pomelos (peeled, and separated from the membrane)
Cranberries (super bitter when raw; I included just for aesthetic purposes)
Carrots (rinsed and scrubbed, with tops still on to add some green to the plate)
Radishes (rinsed and scrubbed, with green tops still on)
Walnuts (served both in and out of their shell for a variety of textures)
Chestnuts (these actually need to be roasted before eating! So I included them purely for their appearance, not for eating)
Recipe to come soon! Or buy your favorite from the store. Sprinkle with parsley and smoked paprika (careful — a little goes a long way).
Sage and Rosemary (just for presentation, not eating)
Bread and Crackers
Multigrain boule, cut into thin slices and then each slice was cut into half.
French baguette, cut into thin slices
Photography credit in this post goes to my amazingly talented friend and photographer Trisha Rymsza; the beautiful dining room and Christmas decor belongs to my extremely stylish friend and interior designer Bryn Shilling.